LIBERA ME, Domine, Iesu Christe, ab omnibus iniquitatis meis et universis malis,
fac me tuis semper inhærere mandatis et a te numquam separari permittas. Amen.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Give Up, or Pick Up ?

We all know about ‘giving it up for Lent’; and no doubt most of us will try and give something that we enjoy up as part of our Lenten discipline. It may be food; but then, if we live with others, that may not be very practical : so perhaps we sleep a little less and pray a little more, or do without smoking, or eating between meals . . .

The effect of this self-denial is to irritate; but at the same time to gratify us with the feeling that it’s ‘doing us good’.

Similarly, working hard to eliminate – or, more realistically – to reduce some particular vice to which we are prone is also, in its own way, a form of ‘self denial’; and again, it produces both the irritation of what we do, but also the gratification that we are doing it.

The trouble is that the human condition is one in which such mortifications grow in intensity very quickly; and – inversely – make their duration seem incredibly long . . . so Lent drags on – will Easter never come ?

The only thing is that I don’t think this is quite what the Church had in mind when it instituted Lent. I think the idea was that it should take on a character of desperate rush . . . helter-skelter towards Easter : ‘Heavens – Lætare already, and nothing to show for it !’

Lent is, I believe, intended to make us think about the very transient life we have on earth; a life ‘on probation’, in which we cannot, really, afford to waste a single instant. That, I think, is why, on Ash Wednesday, we hear S. Paul’s metaphor of an ambassador delivering an ultimatum – ‘be reconciled to God’. He reminds us that we have only a few days of grace, in which to make our peace with God : Ash Wednesday recalls our earthly origin, and our earthly destiny . . . Easter looks forward to our eternal home in heaven; but the gap between them is not a huge tranquil space : it is, rather, a mad dash to fit everything in ‘whilst there is yet time’.

I’ve mentioned S. Joseph Cafasso before : and one of his beliefs was that one should always be ready to die . . . never go to bed with a letter unanswered, or a task undone; so that whenever death comes, one is as fully prepared for it as one can be.

Similarly, our Jewish brethren, during the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, do not so much fast, and mortify themselves, as go to great lengths to pay their debts, seek pardon from those they have offended, and generally ‘spring clean’ their lives so that when the Shofar blows to end the Day of Atonement, they can feel that they have put right the wrongs they have done.

Mgr Ronald Knox always used to encourage people not so much to give things up for Lent, as to pick things up for Lent – to get things done that need doing, so that at Easter there is a joyous sense of having less to do. As he said ‘For many of us, it would be something if that pile of unanswered letters on the writing table – with all their background of disappointment, distress, and inconvenience – could disappear by the time Easter comes. The manuscript we promised to read, the aunts we promised to visit – if only we could cheat ourselves into the feeling that these forty days were our last chance, how quickly they would run their course !’

Perhaps we should heed his advice this Lent; and without ignoring the demand to give more time and commitment to God by ‘giving up’ things, also spend more time ‘picking up’, and doing the things which we have failed to do during the last year, so that on Easter Day we, too, can rejoice that at the moment of Resurrection we are truly ready to meet our Creator, Redeemer, and Judge.

I wish you all a Holy and Blessed Lent.

1 comment:

  1. For more information about Shofar and other Holy Temple instruments.

    We have three websites

    1) Shofar Sounders WebPage

    2) Joint Effort with Michael Chusid, an expert Shofar sounder and commentator

    3) Shofar WebPage