rethinking Lent

Mar 23, 2020

“Thus says the Lord:
Now I am going to create new heavens and a new earth,

Today’s readings at this link.

Just a month ago we were picking our Lenten practices and penances and back then on Ash Wednesday we never imaged that a virus would bring us to our knees with a universal reminder of our frailty, our fragility, and our vulnerability.

Perhaps the unwelcome challenge we face is a call for us to re-think Lent 2020?

Lent is a springtime of noticing the action of God who is creating a new heaven and a new earth here and now among us.

Perceptive people can see that our old ideas of heaven and life on earth are falling from our grasp as we realise that the little games we play with projects and goals, success, ambition and achievement are powerless to deliver the stability and happiness that they promise.

This feels deathly since we fear losing these earthly securities. But already we perceive something new emerging in the tragedy and we like some of what we see. It causes us to smile in hope when we see Italians in isolation leaning out their apartment windows every night at six to sing.

This Lenten call is an in-our-face challenge to let go of attachments, the things we naively think will deliver us happiness, so that we might experience the freedom which is essential for healthy and happy human life. This growth requires letting go of our captive existence in little wombs of earthly securities.

Our Lenten projects run the risk of becoming little games we play ambitiously giving up a pleasure or praying a bit more. But being able to pick and choose our Lenten disciplines is perhaps an artificial luxury. Our real opportunity for growth comes when we face the unchosen reality that presents itself, the relationship insecurity, the financial uncertainty, the health struggle and family tensions. We do not choose these sufferings, and they are real and unavoidable.

In these weeks we face a virus which confronts us with death. We did not choose this and we do not deserve it. But it is real, and Lent is above all a time of facing reality discovering that when we are feeling vulnerable we turn to Jesus, and when we turn to Jesus with the humble desperation of a beggar, then we are inviting Jesus to work miracles of healing. growth and renewal in us.

A friend of mine reflected this week:

“This health emergency is screaming that I’m not in control. Today, I cannot go where I want, I’m told to change my work routine without end in sight. A few days ago it dawned on me that my health, and the health of those I love, can be at risk at any moment. Suddenly, I realised that my health, my life is not in my hands.”

A couple of invitations:

“Take a moment to savour Pope Francis’ Lenten encouragement.

Lent is a new beginning,
a path leading to the certain goal of Easter,
Christ’s victory over death.
This season urgently calls us to conversion.
Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts” (Joel 2:12),
to refuse to settle for mediocrity
and to grow in friendship with the Lord.

Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us.
Even when we sin, he patiently awaits our return;
by that patient expectation,
he shows us his readiness to forgive

Experience some hope as you watch this brief clip of Italians in isolation discovering solidarity in solitude. Love the little boy covering his ears at the end!


  1. I chose to give up television for Lent and it has been a very testing time not being able to watch the news as it unfolds… then yesterday I traveled from Auckland to Christchurch by plane. Such a sobering experience. Auckland airport was so eerily quiet people not speaking to one another, even on the plane! So when I arrived in Christchurch it was something of a relief to see people acting a little more normally. My daughter pointed out that We have been through so much that this is just another thing to be gone through…and it too will end.
    I give thanks to God for the blessing of technology that is keeping some normalcy in my life..and keeping me on track with my Lenten journey. God bless you Fr John for your messages of hope. And I raise my voice in song with all my fellow travellers who are in isolation today. God bless you all.

  2. My age Has curtailed my voluntary outreach, l do not have a beautful voice to sing to my neighbours, but l can pick up the phone to keep in contact with those l visited. I can go for early morning walks when no one else is around. I can re engage with my husband as we approach 50 years of marriage. I can smile and pray! Keep well Father John and thank you

    • thank you Mary, very wise words and encouraging.

  3. Thanks Fr John, especially for that uplifting video of the Italians Have a great day.

  4. The beautiful spring-time photograph of the flower growing on the woody plant reminds me of the poignant reading in the Book of Job 14: 7 … “For there is hope for a tree … if it is cut down, it will sprout again. The tender branch of it will not cease”.
    The blossom of new life is like an exquisite garland of peace, hope, and love.
    Thank you for redeeming the ordinariness of our mindset. +

  5. This video is so moving Father, thank you for your message of hope!

  6. A special and timely reflection on Lent and the present reality. Love how the Italians are uniting through music expressing with all their hearts how the human spirit can never be caged.

  7. Superb Fr John. Many thanks

  8. Perhaps giving up control of our lives and actions is as you say Father John, the greatest penance. Perhaps in fact not being in control, letting God lead us by the hand, one day. one hour at a time is where God has been trying to lead us for a long time! I am reminded of Paul’s words “All things work together for good for those who love God”.

  9. Loved the awaken of your writings this morning. The video has me wondering if I could walk thru the Mary Potter Court playing some thoughtful music, maybe a much loved hymm or a vibrant happy song. I have great intentions but………..

  10. I cried!!

  11. Thank you for including today’s Readings. Hopefully you may do this daily ?

  12. It is absolutely heartwarming video clip. How the gifts of music n beautiful voice automatically freely reach out to bring hope and lift up the spirit of the village. Out of the crisis brings creativity , solidarity and hope. Thank you Fr John for reawakening a newer away of looking into another way of making changes in Lenten discipline to embrace reality that is beyond our control and it is there .

  13. Thank you Father John it was uplifting your words and the music. We are so blessed to be able to pray the Mass online too. Daily Mass is live-streamed daily here in Christchurch at 9am and from tomorrow at7pm. My whole Lenten practises are in disarray only to be replaced by these livestream Masses. Praise God for his goodness to me.

  14. Good morning John, and may God bless you and yours. This is a time where the age old questions of “Has this come from God? Why does he do this?” arise for many of us. If you have an answer and an opportunity to share it with us, that would be most appreciated. God bless.

  15. Much more likely it comes from the evil one. Look at what is happening – fear and anxiety, isolation, sickness and death. Jesus healed these things. No way could they possibly come from God

  16. yes,God is calling us to repent forgive our brothers and sisters,because God forgive us his love is unconditional, we pray , by the grace of God. we ask for the gift of forgiveness specially for in our own families, now is the time to forgive one another we are all is the same boat

  17. I decided to go on a fruit and vegetable diet for the duration of lent. About two weeks in I noticed that my daughter was getting more and more unsettled and I realised that my supply dropped and she wasn’t getting enough when I was nursing her. So I added a few things to my diet, but am still avoiding the ‘naughty’ treats. So as you say, I did not have the luxury of choosing my goals for lent, but I still learned a very valuable lesson. The wellbeing of my family comes first. Sacrifices I make for lent are worthless, if they have a negative impact on the people around us.


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