Feb 27, 2012

When I begin by reminding you that today is the first Sunday of Lent, there are probably a few thoughts that jump to your mind. 

  • It’s Lent, I should be giving something up
  • it’s all about fasting and penance
  • Thanks be to God Lent is not as tough as it used to be
  • How can I kill two birds with the one stone using Lent as an opportunity to lose weight, stop smoking or drink less?
  • what a great opportunity for some spring-cleaning in my relationship with God

I’m writing this on Saturday morning, before I give this homily, but I guess that my first few suggestions are more on your minds than the last one!  That’s because these are the thoughts that I have when I think of Lent!

And remember that last one too – that is one of my thoughts as well as the others: ‘what a great opportunity for some spring-cleaning in my relationship with God.’

I don’t know how many of you mark ‘shrove‘ or ‘pancake’ Tuesday. This day is more widely known as Mardi Gras (ie fat Tuesday), or ‘Carnival‘ (literally ‘goodbye meat’). These celebrations began when the fasting was tough: 40 days without meat or dairy products (hence the binging on pancakes to empty the larder).

“Spring-cleaning”. It’s probably a task we don’t look forward to, but we feel great when it is done. When the cupboard, the room, the house is cleaned and re-ordered I can relax. I know what is there and I know what is not there. I know what I will let in and what I will keep out. My plans for keeping this place in good shape are admirable. There is a deep readiness to move into the future when I have my own house in order.

Interesting that the ‘spring-cleaning’ thought is so helpful. Bridget lives in England and this morning she ‘facebooked’: “Spring is in the air and it is GOOD!!”   She is in England where it is Spring – the Northern Hemisphere. The leaves are beginning to turn and fall here: it’s Autumn for us.  ‘Lent’ as ‘spring’? That doesn’t sound right.

The word Lent is actually derived from the Old English word meaning ‘spring’ – as in ‘lengthening of the days’.

And this made sense for the people who first celebrated the Christian feasts a couple of thousand years ago. Lent coincided with the season of spring so that Easter would come right at the time when the world of nature was springing into new ‘resurrection’ life.  

The timing of the feasts of the church year is a homily on its own, but you get the idea: North of the Equator the Son of God enters the world (Christmas) when the Sun is at its lowest point (the Winter solstice in Late December). For the people up there, this was another reminder that God is always ready to enter humanity at the lowest point: the place of greatest struggle and suffering…

Anyway, sidetracking here would take too long. Back to Lent in the Southern Hemisphere…

While it might initially seem like a disadvantage for the Liturgical Year of the Church to match the Northern Hemisphere, perhaps it leads us to focus on the heart of the feasts instead of being distracted by the signs in nature?

When we see Lent as an opportunity to ‘spring-clean’ the life of the soul, wonderful possibilities of new life open up for us.

We realise that in the busy-ness and demands of daily life, we accumulate many thoughts, routines and practices that may not deliver the happiness that they promise.

To the extent that these accretions become habitual, our freedom is limited. Tragically, our happiness is limited to the extent that these habits or compulsions compromise our freedom.  To the extent that our freedom is limited, happiness eludes us.

And this is the kind of ‘spring-cleaning’ that is the purpose and heart of Lent: a letting go of all that limits us, restricts us, and therefore prevents us finding the happiness we seek.

Our tools in this task are the gospels and the teachings of the Church. Our method is the sacraments. Our companion is Jesus. Our goal is God.

The teachings of the Church are therefore not exterial impositions attempting to contort us into alien guises. Instead the Church and the sacraments create an environment of growth for the human person. In this atmosphere our true self is able to emerge.

The glory of God is the human person fully living!

No longer are we satisfied with the masks and disguises of Mardi Gras, but the reality of our sin being transformed by the risen Jesus who is God-in- love-with-us.

God has a distate for contracts (‘I’ll do this for you if you do this for me’), and instead has entered into a covenant with us: a covenant that is lived in passionate loved for each of us even and especially when we are not lovely. A covenant is  unbreakable, everlasting, and a greenhouse for human growth and abundant life. 

This divine covenant is lived in love and with delightful and spectacular reminders: the cry of the newborn baby, the embrace of the friend and the bow of colour in the sky after the storm.


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