This issue of Faith Journey will arrive in your email inbox during the season of Lent. For those of you not familiar with the traditions of the Catholic faith, Lent is a period of six weeks. It falls between two important events in the Catholic calendar: Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday (which is three days before Easter Sunday).
The idea of “seasons” is worthy of contemplation. In the Catholic Church, we divide the year into a number of seasons including Easter, Christmas and even one called Ordinary Time. In our own lives, we experience different seasons – and I don’t mean spring, summer, autumn and winter! If you have had a baby, you will have experienced a season of joy intermingled with sleep deprivation and the struggle to balance work and family commitments. Eventually you move out of that season and into the “teenage years”. Whilst this season of life will bring many memorable moments, it also presents many challenges as both the teenager, and the parent, view that particular season through very different lenses. If you have ever experienced a season of long-term unemployment, ill health or grief, then you will understand the challenges they have presented. In these more difficult times, it is not unnatural to desire that the particular season would come to an end.
For many people, Lent is seen as a season of denial – denial of those good things in life we’d rather not give up: alcohol, meat on Fridays, cakes, sweets, social media, internet shopping etc. This “giving up” of particular things is often viewed as a bit old-fashioned or traditionalist. And, maybe as a response to this, I’ve noticed in recent years the rhetoric around Lent is changing from the idea of “giving up” to “taking up”.
Catholics are encouraged to take up more time for prayer, to give money to the poor (almsgiving), to mend broken relationships and to be more conscious of the needs of others. To my mind, Lent can be about both giving up and taking up. It is a season where our Church calls us to reflect more deeply on our lives, so as to rectify those things that get in the way of loving God and our neighbour.
Lent is a season. It does come to an end. However, it is long enough for us to take stock of how we live our lives. It is long enough for us to do a bit of decluttering, clearing away any excesses that make our lives less than they could be.
If your faith journey currently finds you observing the Catholic Church, and what it might mean to be a member, then try not to view the season of Lent as a novelty, or a tradition that is past its use-by date. Try to see it as one season among the many seasons the Church has to offer. You will discover that in the calendar of the Catholic Church there is a balance of seasons for celebration, reflection, healing and a time to get on with the ordinary things of life.
During this season of Lent, those who are preparing to become adult members of the Catholic Church are asked to dedicate time to reflect on their lives. They are to reflect on what is “weak, defective, or sinful” and what is “upright, strong and good” in their lives (#128, RCIA).
I find the following prayer, prayed by the priest for all those who are about to become a Catholic, particularly beautiful. What do you think?
you are the fountain for which they thirst,
you are the Master whom they seek.
In your presence
they dare not claim to be without sin,
for you alone are the Holy One of God.
They open their hearts to you in faith,
they confess their faults
and lay bare their hidden wounds.
In your love free them from their infirmities,
heal their sickness,
quench their thirst,
and give them peace.
Images: Unsplash (Maple Leaf by Chris Lawton, Cutting up by Pro Church Media)
Words: Sharon Brewer (NCE)
This article is part of Faith Journey, a newsletter from the National Centre for Evangelisation.