March 28, 2014

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Lent is for all of us because nobody’s perfect

Cynthia DewesLent always coincides more or less with the season of spring. That may be hard to believe, considering the winter we’ve had, but it’s true, nevertheless. We’re now in the seasons of Lent and spring.

We tend to think of Lent as a time of penance, which it is. But it’s also a time for new beginnings—although I cringe at that redundant phrase. Lent is the time to reflect on where we are on our spiritual journey. As we think about Jesus’ progress toward his inevitable fate, we can’t help but think about ours as well. And penance is certainly part of that progress.

Probably, most of us are not big-time sinners. We don’t rape, murder or rob banks. But if we are honest, we may admit that we’ve taken advantage of someone else, gossiped in a way that could damage a reputation, or cheated on our income tax.

Or maybe not. Maybe we’ve been generally good boys and girls. We’ve maintained good reputations and the respect of others. Maybe we’ve achieved positions of honor or authority or widespread influence. But as we all know, nobody’s perfect. That’s when we realize that we all sin in some way because we’re human.

The Goody Two-shoes among us may not do terrible things, but they probably know in their hearts they’ve experienced envy or contempt for another at some point. We’ve all been greedy sometimes, or at least felt the desire to eat too much, to accumulate money and things we don’t need, or to try to “best” a rival.

During Lent, we’re taking inventory on “what we have done and what we have failed to do,” and we’re asking forgiveness. But Lent, like spring, is the time to recover from the death of winter and sin. It’s time to renew, to blossom, to thrive in the sunshine of God’s love

Traditionally, during Lent we also increase our almsgiving and prayer. The Church helps us do these with Lenten services and special missions and opportunities to contribute to worthy charities. We are also encouraged to fast, meaning we eat only three basic meals per day, give up meat on Fridays and other special days, and eliminate consumption of luxury foods and alcohol.

What really matters in all these practices is our motive in doing them. We’re not in a contest, obsessing on minutiae like how much food we’re putting on the plate or how many times we’ve prayed the rosary. At least, we shouldn’t be.

If we’re struggling to get up early or stay after work in order to attend daily Lenten Masses, and resenting every moment of it, what value has that? Or if we’re crabby because we’re hungry, complaining about tuna fish casserole yet again, where’s the virtue in it? What matters is that in doing these things we’re reflecting on the values they represent: moderation and self-denial, sharing with the poor, taking more time to listen to God.

This is where the scriptural admonitions kick in, to look cheerful and wash your face when fasting; or to give so generously that your right hand doesn’t know what your left hand is doing; or to pray privately rather than stand in front of the altar with your prayer tassels prominently displayed.

It seems to me that Lent is a happy time because it is preparation for a happy ending—a really happy ending in Resurrection and eternal life.

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

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