The Mystery of Lent

God called us into being. He spoke, and we were.

God is life. God is the fullness of life. He is perfect life; complete, endless, and good,

He shares His life with us. He gives us a secret name, known only to Him, and by His Word He calls us into life. (Genesis 1; and 5:2; Revelation 2:17)

Truly does the inspired author of Genesis say that God moulded man from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7), for God made man in His image (Genesis 1:27; 5:1; and other places). For just as the earth is moulded into the form which the craftsman gives it, so God created us, and although His image in us has been distorted, yet it can be restored through the work of spiritual regeneration (this is the basis of Christian teaching, and is especially found in St Paul and in the Syriac liturgies).

The work we do in Lent is exactly this work of repair, renewal, and re-creation. Just as athletes have to train before they compete, so we have to train when we compete in the spiritual struggle which is life on this earth. Athletes have to watch what they eat and drink: to exclude some things altogether, and to judge the quantity of what they take. If they wish to do their best, and perhaps even to win, then they have to limit themselves, not give in to their impulses and desires. So too must we, but with one big difference: only one person can win the gold medal, but God actually wants all of us to gain the crown of heaven. Like athletes, we must suffer in order to overcome suffering.

The Season of Great Lent is the period of preparation prior to the Week of Sufferings (which includes Holy Thursday and Good Friday), and of course, Easter. The Season of Lent with its penance and mortification precedes the Season of the Resurrection with its triumph and joy. Lent lasts from Ash Monday through to the Raising of Lazarus, the Saturday before Hosanna Sunday. It is the period of suffering in order to win the victory over pain, sin, and death.

Lent therefore stand for something real: making us worthy of joining in the fullness of the hope of the Resurrection. That is, its meaning is that we are changed, by cooperating with the grace of God. Changed from what and into what? To put it at the strongest, changed from being children of darkness to children of light, for God is light, as St John tells us, and whoever does not know God walks in darkness (1 John 1:5-7).

Now, we have probably not been completely lost in darkness, we have been making efforts all the year. But we have all, to some extent shared in it, for: “If we say, ‘We have not sinned,’ we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10). And neither do we become completely perfect. The change, therefore, is not a complete transformation, like a caterpillar into a butterfly. But it is something in that direction, and I should not assume at the start that this Lent will be like every other. The grace of God is far greater than I know. I am shutting myself off from blessings if, because I cannot imagine them, I take the attitude that there is nothing to be discovered. If I do not believe it is possible that there is something to be discovered, I will not explore.

And so, Lent can be a period of exploration. I explore my place in the creation and in God’s plan of salvation. First, of course, I must have faith in God and in His plan. I learn the faith, and then apply it to myself through three main procedures, I suggest:

  • examination of conscience
  • penance and mortification
  • cultivating all the virtues, from charity to religion.

I see my situation: I am lost. This is examination of conscience. I see what I have to do to get onto the right path, and then I resolve to drive down that road. This is penance and mortification. Then I get into my car and head off. This is cultivating the virtues.

Lent is a time for examination of our human situation, acknowledging our mortality, acknowledging that we shall all die and be judged, acknowledging the reality of heaven, hell and purgatory. It should stand for seeing where I need to do penance, to change, to be cleansed, and to devote myself – with prudence – to those spiritual actions.

Lent has, to some extent, become identified with the Fast of Lent (see my post on Fasting However, this is our loss. We need to fast “with prudence” because from time to time one hears of someone who fasted with such rigour that they ended up in hospital. This is no virtue. If anything, it tends to bring mortification and everything to do with penance and with Lent into disrepute. Therefore such “enthusiasm” is not only unbalanced, it can lead to bad results not only for the person who overdoes it, but for others, too.

We should therefore fast and abstain in Lent, but remember why we do so, and use the suffering of fasting to remind us of this. We should also pay attention to:

  • works of charity
  • especially the giving of alms
  • taking stock of our vices and virtues, to defeat the former and strengthen the latter.

Then, if this dust which has been originally moulded into the image of god, is remade through penance, then it can answer the call of God.

I opened by saying that God called, and we were. Well, there is a great mystery here, but He is always calling. But we do not hear: our ears are closed. Lent is a time to open our ears. To re-create the internal image of God, and to raise our voices in answer, so that when we say “The Messiah has risen, He is truly risen!” we participate, spiritually, in that Resurrection.

One comment

  1. Nice article, our focus during Lent is important.
    I’ve found that the spiritual exercises planted during a well engaged Lent can nourish you spiritually for the rest of the year. Ideally, one Lent would build upon the other, year after year, while restoring any losses incurred.

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