Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Lenten Spring Has Come

The Lenten Spring Has Come!
The Light of Repentance!
O Brothers, let us cleanse ourselves from all evil,
Crying out to the Giver of Life
‘Glory to Thee, O Lover of Man!’
Byzantine Lenten Hymn

Reflection – Well, it has come at long last-the Lenten Spring. Winter may have us in its icy grasp yet, at least in this part of the world, and show little signs of releasing us just yet, but liturgically it is the springtime of the soul.

I have always loved this hymn of the Eastern Church, which figures prominently in our Madonna House Lenten liturgies. Often, a male cantor will intone each line with great proclamatory force, and the congregation will echo it in Byzantine chant tone, which has a great lyrical flow and sweetness.
It is a joyful hymn, a hopeful hymn, a hymn that begins the time of Lent with positive force and spiritual vision. And we need this, don’t we? Lent is, for many people, something heavy, dour, exclusively penitential, sad, hard. I suspect that because this is still a widespread experience of Lent, many people don’t take it on too deeply, or avoid it altogether. I’m talking about practicing Catholics here—of course people not practicing the faith are not into Lent.

If we see Lent as just forty days of doing without something we like, or forty days of being all sad and guilty, then we probably won’t be too interested in it. But to see Lent in this more proclamatory light—the springtime of the soul, the light of repentance, the cleansing of evil, the glorification of God—is far more attractive, isn’t it?

And this is what it is. Fundamentally, Lent is a journey towards Easter, the great movement not just of you and me, or even of the Church as a whole, or even of humanity as a whole, but truly the movement of the whole cosmos from darkness to light, from death to life, from despair and futility to sure and certain hope.

All the Lenten practices, and yes there is an arduous quality to them, or there should be, are for the sake of that movement and nothing else, if they are any good to us whatsoever. We fast, because our tendency is to live too much by the goods of this world and so be heedless of the goods of the resurrection-world. We pray, because our minds are prone to lapse into forgetfulness and senselessness. We give alms, because this is the very heart and soul of the resurrection-life.

We examine ourselves for lingering sinful habits and tendencies not to torture ourselves with guilt and shame but to be done with them forever. We wrest our attention away from worldly things and goods, at least a little bit more, so that our whole being can strain towards the life of heaven, the life of love and light and joy.

This blog will be all about Lent for the next forty days or so, like I did in Advent. Lenten readings, reflections, themes—the whole works. It is time for us in the Church and in the world to really welcome Lent this year. The world has so many serious problems, so many genuinely dangerous situations. It is a sobering time for humanity, and Lent is above the season of great spiritual sobriety and vigilance.

But as the hymn says, it is not a gloomy and bitter time. It is springtime, and the whole focus of our souls and minds should be a vigilance, not for evil and wretchedness, but for the signs of spring within and without—the melting of the snow, the melting of our cold hearts, the song of the birds, the song of joy springing up in our souls, the thawing of the earth, the softening of our hearts for God’s grace to be sown there, the tender, tentative sending forth of bud and leaf, the first stirrings of new life, new love, new grace within.

This is the Lenten spring, which comes to us amidst the fasting, prayer, alms giving, penitence of the season. Let us cleanse ourselves from all evil, from anything that impedes that springtime, and cry out to the life-giving God, ‘glory to you, O Lord.’

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