Fr John Gallagher Si finds Lent is a time gaining freedom from ourselves.
by John Gallagher Si LENT is a time for growth. This calls for Metanoia — a change of mind and heart.
The Gospels begin with the proclamation "Reform your lives. the reign of God has begun." Something in our hearts today echoes the indictment of Isaiah 98 — "Do you call this a fad . .? (all these superficial observances) — "This rather. is the fast that I wish, releasing those bound unjustly, setting free the oppressed, sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the homeless."
Lent is a summons to change. not for 40 days but forever. Our Catholic faith is not one merely of maintenance. but one of spiritual advancement.
It is a time when we make extra effort to clear away the obstacles we place between ourselves and God.
Traditionally. Lent is a lime for "giving up", for sacrifice and self-denial. This is a dimension of Christian life that is always with us. the need to become detached from ourselves in order to be more free to give ourselves to God and His people.
Some time ago I was in a refugee camp in the Middle East on Ash Wednesday. There is something deeply spiritual and moving about being among God's most abandoned, the hungry. the thirsty, the homeless.
The refugees are like John the Baptist calling us from the wilderness to a life of sacrifice and penance, prayer and renewal. Their very presence in the world is testimony to the meaning of ashes, — the temporality of our existence, the mortality of mankind. the shifting fortunes of life.
Ashes, at this bleak time of the year are symbolic of the end of everything — and the beginning of everything.
Many of our own people in this country are feeling the refugee anguish through a loss of jobs. or income. or most of all, the dignity that comes from being able to care for -one's own family. without being thrust upon the mercy or charily of others.
Lent at least helps us to put it all in proper perspective in the context of prayer. suffering with Christ, deep questioning of personal and social values.
For us poor refugees of the kingdom of God life too is a pilgrimage. It is our return to the Lord.
"Work as though everything depends upon yourself: pray as though everything depends upon God." Lent means a renewal of our prayer-life.
There is a "rush hour" in our day; there should also be a "hush hour" when we are alone with God. Do you remember the account in St Luke of the widow and the Judge? Jesus tells us that "there was a judge who respected neither God nor man.
A widow pesters him unmercifully, seeking justice from those who attacked her. The judge ignores her, thinking that she will stop bothering him. But she is persistent, until finally the judge says, "She is wearing me out. I had better give judgment in her favour."
Jesus then compared the judge to God and the widow to God's people. "Will not God give justice to His chosen ones who call to Him day and night? . . . I tell you He will give them swift justice."
Suppose we reverse the roles and imagine the widow to represent God and the judge to stand for ourselves.
It would be God then who follows us around trying to get us to listen to Him and we who try to ignore the Divine Mystery in our life. Sometimes it seems that we do all we can to escape the "threat" of God in our lives.
Lent is the time when we are urged to slow down and let God gain on us a bit. It is not. however, a time when we are to grovel in guilt because we are not super-Christians. We are confident that He will help us to improve.
Lent reminds us of the old truths. We are in this world to serve God. It is antiquissima sed novissima — very old, very new. Chesterton brings this out in Orthodoxy. "Because children have abounding vitaIil . because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged.
They always say, 'Do it again,' and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. It is plssible that God says every morning, "Do it again." to the sun. and ever s evening 'Do it again' to the moon.
It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately but has never got tired of making them.
It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy: for we have sinned and grown old. and our Father is younger than we."