Oh dear, February!
Aidan Mayoss cr
There is only one good thing about February. It’s short! In spite of global warming we sneeze and shiver, but take heart from the indefatigable snowdrops – a natural reminder of the annual miracle of resurrection, indistinguishable from the lying snow though they might well be.
All changes on the 21st, for that is Ash Wednesday and Lent is upon us. When Easter is early, as it was last year, no sooner is Candlemass past than Lent begins and we go on being surprised; this year we have some time to get ourselves organized and prepared, for Lent – the Holy Season.
What does the Lord require of us in this and every Lent? What he always requires: ‘Do justly, love righteousness and walk humbly with God’ [Mic. 6.8]. Almost imperceptibly we take to ourselves the customs of the materialist self-justifying and self-satisfying world; we become corrupt, soiled, blind both to our neighbours and ourselves, and doing justly is drowned out by the din of self.
As for loving righteousness, loving God and the things of God all goes a bit cold, like the church in February. Prayer is difficult; worship, well, perhaps when it is warmer… So we think, ‘I’ll do something about it in Lent, as I do every Lent,’ and as for walking humbly with God, any walking we are likely to do will be backwards!
Consider those three verbs, to do, to walk, and to love. The negatives are not nice to contemplate, but contemplate them we must, for all sin is a deliberate turning away from God, and it is not that this hurts God, but it makes us a hindrance rather than a help to him.
So on Shrove Tuesday, before we gorge ourselves on pancakes, just remember that in old times they were not made from ingredients carefully packed for Waitrose, but with the fat and goodies still in the store cupboard before taking on the rigours of Lent. So to the pancake mix of our own lives: it must be sorted, recognized and forgiven, a really lovely pancake that we can offer to God for his service.
The purpose of Lent is not so that that we can get into last year’s swimming costume but that we shall be ready and willing to walk humbly even into that desert where there are demons to be vanquished – demons of our own construction or imagining, or put in our way by others, waiting to pounce on the weakest bits of our very selves. Jesus’ Baptism was followed by his temptations. Our penitence, being made strong again by the mercy of God, does not lead on to a lovely peaceful hymn-singing time; it just prepares us in the best possible way to face the demons and laugh at them.
So then, Lent is not a wretched six weeks of doing without; rather, is it a time for doing battle with lots of different demons, inside and outside us, and if we are steadfast we shall rejoice that much louder in the Easter Liturgy, for we shall know, at first hand, a little bit more of what Jesus endured for each of us.