Forty Days & Forty Nights
FOR MANY people the season of Lent this year will make little difference to their lives. This is not because of indifference or because our secular values have successfully eroded so many of the practices which characterised the Christian religion. It is rather because many of us have been living an involuntary Lenten observance since the coronavirus made prolonged periods of lockdown imperative and suspended so much of the activity which was an unquestioned part of our lives. Many of us have discovered our inner Carthusian, or what it is like to be a hermit. Many of us too have found time heavy on our hands, and have turned to prayer, or at least to reflecting on the things that really matter to us in life, or have thought a little about God. Furthermore, the humming bush telephone, the spontaneous WhatsApp groups, the conversations across the garden fence (when weather permits), and the 8.00 pm clapping for the NHS workers all drew even the most misanthropic citizen into an appreciation of just how much our local neighbourhood mattered.
The Church, inspired by what Jesus said in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5, 1 – 6 & 16 – 18), reminds us each year that the three great ‘works’ of Lent are: prayer, self-restraint/penance and alms-giving. And since March 2020 (Lent was in its third week when the first lockdown began)’ many of us have been performing these ‘works’ for the best part of a whole year.
The question then arises as to what those of us who are already living by a Lenten discipline, albeit involuntarily and in response to government orders (as well as common sense), can do to make Lent 2021 special, once Ash Wednesday comes around. Do we just ‘up the ante’ by spending additional time praying, denying ourselves even more and reaching even deeper into our pockets? Or is there a more imaginative way in which we can benefit from the opportunity which Lent 2021 offers us? Already on the first day of Lent the Church reminds us that it is ‘a time of grace’. It is a time
of opportunity but, as we know, opportunities can slip between our fingers unless we grasp them.
Lent, unlike Advent, which is frantically busy and in any case evaporates so quickly, is long enough to be challenging and demanding. It is also long enough to accomplish a task with little to distract us and yet not so long that our enthusiasm will go off the boil. This year we might avail ourselves of what Lent offers us to accomplish a task we would not normally undertake: read Anna Karenina, write a letter to a friend every day, walk an extra mile when taking one’s allotted period of exercise, or read the four Passion narratives in the four Gospels and/or listen to the Passions of JS Bach. Let this Lent be a time when we do something extra for the glory of God (ad majorem Dei gloriam) or for the benefit of our neighbour, especially if she/he is in particular need. That makes sense of Lent.
Patrick H. Daly, Parish Priest
Our Lady & St. Anne
Forty Days & Forty Nights