ON THE OTHER HAND: Joyful Lent!
Christians traditionally see Lent as a period of abstinence and penance to be endured.
Why don’t we see it as an opportunity to be enjoyed?
We associate Lent with giving up pleasures, whether it be drink, meat, sweets, sex or partying.
It’s a time for sackcloth and ashes, for fasting, wearing long faces, being thoroughly miserable and making everybody else miserable.
But when you think about it, there’s no intrinsic virtue in abstaining from enjoyable activities, unless you’re a puritanical masochist. It’s purely an instrumental value.
The real purpose of Lent is to renew our spirituality and our commitment to an ethically good life as we look forward to the glory of Easter.
If giving up things helps us achieve that focus, by all means do so. But if it interferes with our prayer and meditation, don’t do it.
I remember years ago one Lent I gave up all meat and fish, coffee and tea, alcohol, salt and sugar; and I was too weak to have sex, so I renounced that too. That was the most horrible Lent I ever had. I remember a Trini friend of mine exclaiming: “What happen with you, boy? You mus’ee kill a priest!”
Lent is a unique annual opportunity for getting in touch with the deepest sources of our spirituality. This should be a joyful experience. Christians should be wreathed in smiles during Lent.
In the hustle and bustle of this world, Lent is a good time to reflect on our priorities; examine our conscience; meditate, pray, make resolutions or not; do acts of charity. All with the hope of emerging with our spirituality energized and our commitment to love, peace and social justice renewed.
But it’s definitely not a time for feeing self-righteously virtuous because we’re denying ourselves something we enjoy. As for repenting, we should be doing that year-round.
Of course all this may seem too “New Age” for traditional Christians, who often tend to have a gloomy outlook on life.
It’s worth remembering the words of the greatest pope of the modern era, Blessed Pope John XXIII, who summoned the Second Vatican Council against the almost unanimous advice of the Vatican bureaucracy, but with the enthusiastic approval of Catholics around the world. In his opening address to the council in 1962, he said:
“In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, it sometimes happens that we hear certain opinions which disturb us – opinions expressed by people [that is, his own bureaucrats] who, though fired with a commendable zeal for religion, are lacking in sufficient prudence and judgment in their evaluation of events.
“They can see nothing but calamity and disaster in the present state of the world. They say over and over that this modern age of ours, in comparison with past ages, is definitely deteriorating. One would think from their attitude that history, that great teacher of life, had taught them nothing. We feel that we must disagree with these prophets of doom, who are always forecasting worse disasters, as though the end of the world were at hand.”
Then he went on: “What is needed is that this certain and immutable [Christian] doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honoured teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth . . . is something else.”
We must look upon old ways from fresh perspectives. This world is not of the devil; it’s a beautiful God-drenched world. Everything in it – including all pleasures – was made by God for our enjoyment.
So, if you wish, eat, drink and be merry, and have a joyful Lent!
PS My Lenten prayer for our priests is that they reflect seriously on the virtue of starting Mass on time (punctuality sets a good example for our children), ending before the hour, and keeping their homilies to ten minutes.