February 1, 2008

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

February: A small but mighty month each year

Cynthia DewesFebruary has to be one of the most significant months of the year.

For one thing, it’s the only one that counts an extra day once every four years—in leap year.

That’s the case this year, with a month of 29 days. Even its usual 28 days is unique in a calendar of 30 and 31-day months.

February also is a month that contains more holidays than almost any other. (In our family, we don’t count July in this tally since it’s already chock full of six birthdays and a couple of wedding anniversaries, not to mention Independence Day.)

One of these February holidays is President’s Day, which is actually a composite of what used to be two free days (get it?) celebrating the United States of America, Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays.

Another is Valentine’s Day, that pleasant tribute to romantic love. Both events are a big deal on elementary school calendars.

February is full of saints’ days, too, some familiar and some not.

I’ve heard of St. Agatha, St. Cyril, St. Methodius and St. Peter Damian, but I don’t know much about St. Jerome Emiliani, St. Josephine Bakhita or St. Polycarp. Still, it’s comforting to know they are there for us in heaven.

Sometimes February is host to other important days which are indeed holy days, namely Ash Wednesday and the following days of Lent. That’s true this year in preparation for a particularly early Easter.

It seems we’ve barely absorbed the spiritual rewards of our Savior’s birth at Christmas, and here we are already at the prelude to his death in Ash Wednesday and Lent.

But while it seems to be a less cheerful holy day than its recent predecessor, Ash Wednesday is an equally opportune time to experience God’s grace.

It heralds 40 Lenten days in which to consider our responses to that grace. Lent is a time to prioritize, to weed out, to make changes if necessary. It’s an opportunity to take time to listen to God. And there are many ways to do this, with many willing helpers to assist us in the Lenten imperatives of prayer, penance and almsgiving.

Most parishes offer daily or frequent Masses, and prayer or communion services in addition to weekend Masses.

Frequent Lenten reconciliation services are available in every deanery in addition to the scheduled reconciliation usually offered weekly in each parish. Many parishes hold Lenten retreats, novenas, Bible studies and even an old-fashioned mission here and there.

Every weekend in Lent is an opportunity for charitable giving in addition to a weekly parish contribution.

We’re provided with special envelopes dedicated to various specific recipients, such as the Campaign for Human Development or some other worthy cause.

Some people add more volunteering to their schedules, give extra bags of groceries to the food bank or take long-term responsibility for helping a family in need.

Sometimes Lent becomes the way to “cleanse the temple of our body,” as we used to say. We can eat less or more simply. We can give up the little temptations that we allow ourselves to indulge in otherwise, such as cigarettes or beer. While we’re at it, we can try to eat together as a family more often than not.

The Church provides us with a Lenten season on the Church calendar for a reason. It’s not a time to mope over what’s wrong, but to work on creating what’s right.

And God is always there with us in prayer to give us a hand.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)†

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