This day is more widely known as Mardi Gras (ie fat Tuesday), or ‘Carnival‘ (literally ‘goodbye meat’). These celebrations began years ago when the fasting really was tough: 40 days without meat or dairy products (hence the binging on pancakes to empty the larder).
In these hours before the beginning of the Season of Lent, a few thoughts are common.
- 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
“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 then I can relax. I know what is there and I know what is not there. I have new rules about 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. This morning a friend who lives above the equator ‘facebooked’: “Spring is in the air and it is GOOD!!” That may be true for the northern hemisphere, but here in the south the leaves are beginning to turn and fall: it’s almost 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’.
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.
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.
Enjoy the pancakes!