Dear Parish Family-
"Look, he's wearing green today!" That's how I was greeted by one senior as I entered Independence Manor a few Sunday's ago for a morning Communion Service. She noticed that my stole was green as is the customary color for Ordinary Time, that is, the longest "season" of the church year, between all of the extraordinary seasons like Christmas and Lent.
And speaking of Christmas and Lent, what a trick the calendar played on us this year! In what seemed like a blink of an eye we quickly moved from the Christmas Season, briefly into Ordinary Time, and now into Lent. I wonder, on my next visit to Independence Manor, will that same senior say "look he's wearing purple today!"
The Church in her wisdom gives us the season of Lent as a gift. Yes, I said it, as a gift. It is not a season of sadness and sacrifices, but a season of encouragement and freedom! It is a time to explore our lives and our ways and to see where we are at and where we want to go. Since most of us would never do this on our own (too busy, can't take time away from more pressing issues, don't know how, etc., etc.) the Church sets aside this time and gives it to us like a gift, like any other gift we have ever received, and the rest, as they say, is up to us!
It is so easy to get stuck in a rut, and to put off doing things that need to be done but we just cannot seem to get them completed (any Superstorm Sandy debris still not cleaned up, or Christmas items that need to go back into the attic, or New Year's resolutions that haven't been started yet?) Well, the Church tells us that THIS IS THE TIME to take the time to see what needs to be changed in our lives. That way we cannot say we can get to it soon, or later, or after "fill-in-the-blank" is completed. The Church offers us the time NOW, and it's up to each one of us to accept the gift.
Like many traditions in the Church the things we do are handed down from generation to generation. I remember many years ago, my nephew saying that for Lent he was giving up soda and pizza and snack foods. The "giving up" of something was something he learned from his parents, who learned it from their parents, etc, etc. Like any chain, which is only as strong as its weakest link, the traditions in each of our families is one of those things that can be remembered, cherished, and passed on, or forgotten and dismissed with (too busy, can't take time away from more pressing issues, don't know how, etc, etc). It's up to us to use the gift.
Most people think of Lent as "giving up" but I think it helps to see it more as "freedom from." Like my nephew soon learned, he did not need any of those foods and could easily do without them, during Lent and in fact forever. He was "free" to choose other things and be just as satisfied. He was not a slave to any one food item but rather could make other choices and be just as happy. (Actually attaining more freedom by definition makes us more happy than if we remained enslaved). If he didn't "use the gift" and make the sacrifice and choose to give them up, he may never have known that he could do without. With that knowledge he is more free, and it could lead to him seeing the same freedom in many other areas in his life, with things or habits or people, that he thought he could not do without, but in fact he can. All because he "used the gift!"
Many people, instead of or in addition to giving something up, will also plan to pray more, or attend another holy mass each week, or come to Stations of the Cross, or say a daily rosary, as a way to use the gift to get closer to God, to know Him more, and to understand better what He wants us to do for Him in our lives. This too is "giving up" as it requires us to "free up" some time from doing something else and to spend the time doing a prayerful thing instead. Adding some form of extra prayer during Lent might give us the encouragement to do one or more of these things throughout the year as we see that we can, in fact, "free up" the time in our busy day or week to make them a priority. All because we chose to "use the gift!"
As God says in Isaiah 43:19 "see I am doing something new." Let us all use this gift of Lent as a time to do something new, and become more of the person that God trusts each of us to become, to help ourselves, our families, and our world.
A blessed Lent to each of you and your families,