Friday, March 28, 2014

Lent Is Not a Season

The old life, the life of sin and pettiness, is not easily overcome and changed. The Gospel expects and requires from man an effort of which, in his present state, he is virtually incapable. We are challenged with a vision, a goal, a way of life that is so much above our possibilities!

For even the Apostles, when they heard their Master’s teaching, asked Him in despair: ‘but how is this possible?’ it is not easy, indeed to reject a petty ideal of life made up of daily cares, of search for material goods, security, and pleasure, for an ideal of life in which nothing short of perfection is the goal: ‘be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.’

This world through all its ‘media’ says: be happy, take it easy, follow the broad way. Christ in the Gospel says: choose the narrow way, fight and suffer, for this is the road to the only genuine happiness. And unless the Church helps, how can we make that awful choice, how can we repent and return to the glorious promise given us each year at Easter?

This is where the Great Lent comes in. This is the help extended to us by the Church, the school of repentance which alone will make it possible to receive Easter not as mere permission to eat, to drink, to relax, but indeed as the end of the ‘old’ in us, as our entrance into the ‘new’.

Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent

Reflection – It has been a very good week here in Bruno SK, at the St. Therese Institute of Faith and Mission… but it has been also a very full one, which leaves me somewhat short on brilliant inspiration this morning.

At the same time, I hate to let the blog lag too much. Schmemann here certainly does remind us of just what a very high standard of life the Gospel calls us to. We are made for heroism and totality; we would prefer to lapse into something much less. We are made to be saints of God; we would prefer comfort and compromise. We are made to die and rise with Christ; we would prefer some other path, thank you very much.

Well, that’s just our humanity and its broken voice in us. When we talk about Great Lent (or simply Lent, in our Catholic tradition), we are not talking so much about a season, a mere space of time marked by certain disciplines and prayers. We are not talking about a set of practices, vital as they are: fasting, almsgiving, praying.

It is not a season or a fast or anything we can do that is going to make the great difference for us, carrying us from the broad (and yet paradoxically narrow) path of human limitation and mediocrity to the narrow (and yet paradoxically liberating) way of the Gospel.

It is the Holy Spirit who does this in us, and Lent is nothing if it is not a means to open ourselves, dispose ourselves, for the action of the Spirit. This is the whole point of the matter. We eat less, go without, so as to feel the emptiness within that makes us cry out to be filled. We pray more, or better, so that this crying out is strong in us. We love, and in striving to love experience our frailty and weakness, so that our radical need for God may be made manifest.

It is all about the grace of God and coming into that grace. That is Easter in us – the coming into it is Lent. We are trying (or at least God asks us to try) to live a life that we cannot live. The tension and strain of that is normal, expected, unavoidable. Lent helps us to clarify this tension and direct it rightly. Easter is, as he says, not just lots of food and drink and a big party, but the resolution of that tension not by some brilliant insight or heroic action on our part, but in the coming of God to us. Christ is risen, and only in that resurrection do we come into the fullness of life for which he made us.

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