The Spirit of Lent

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Angel opening the Tomb of Christ - by Benjamin Gerritsz Cuyp - from Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

 

The Spirit of Lent

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crucifixion3.jpg (1600 bytes) This is the time of the year when our Holy Mother the Church deploys all of Her inexhaustibly Rich Resources to bring us back to Holiness, to wholeness with Christ. She Exorcises, Reconciles, Pardons, Blesses, Anoints, Instructs, Lays on Hands, Worships, Fasts, and does everything possible to touch us with Her Christ. She brings us to the very Springs of Eternal Life.

Men and women are summed up in Adam and Eve; they decided to go through life on their own strength, in their own lights, on their own and apart from God. And so have we. As a result, life around us has collapsed; people are fractured and broken, isolated and alone in their shame and guilt. The human soul, in its rebellion against God, has become addicted and trapped in its own Narcosis. Our Ancient Enemy, the Father of Lies and the Great Seducer, has captivated us and we are powerless in his control. Like the Prodigal Son, we long for the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. Our souls hunger for food that has substance to it.

The Bridegroom is here, and the Bride of Christ, with Her lamp lit and filled with oil, bids us rise to go out with Her to meet Him. He comes to release us from our captivity, to bring Good News to us in our poverty, to give us sight, to restore our liberty, and to empower us to walk in the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters of God.

But, in order that all of this might happen, we must first curb our Arrogance, put bridle and bit to our Pride, and experience the hunger of our souls. Fasting, Almsgiving and Prayer are the remedies that allow us to empty our selves of Arrogance and Ego-centrism; they clear out the accumulated junk that has been deposited in our souls, sweeping them clean and thereby making room once again for God's Presence to dwell within.

In former times the Bishop of Rome used to walk barefooted to Saint Sabina's Church on the Aventine Hill, one of the twenty five parishes in fifth century Rome and built on the site of the martyr's house. There he blessed the sackcloth that was worn by the "Penitenti" throughout Lent's forty days, covering themselves also with ashes as did the ancient Ninevites'.

The Penitenti were a special class of Christians who had committed very public and widely known sins; sins such as Adultery, Apostasy, or Killing. They were expelled from all Christian Holy Places on account of their sins, driven out just as Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Paradise on account of their sin. After a long and public period of penance throughout Lent they were reconciled in the Body of Christ on Holy Thursday by the Bishop with Sacramental Absolution following upon their public confession of their sins.

Today's marking of our foreheads with ashes is only a tiny remainder of what used to be back when Christianity was first openly practiced in the Roman Empire. The imposition of ashes along with the admonition "Remember man, thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return", reminds us of the Truth that we have all sinned, we have all alienated ourselves from the Source of Life, and that as a consequence we all stand under the sentence of death; having alienated ourselves from He Who Is Life, we shall all return to the dust of the earth from which we were made in the first place.

Like everything else in Catholic Worship, the Church knows that whatever is signed and acted outwardly by the body, is but an external activity that is designed to effect changes in the inner-soul. Behavior modification is not something newly discovered by the Psychiatrists and Psychologists of the twentieth century. The salutarious effect of behavior changes in the body can, with the cooperation of the Will, modify attitudes in the inner-soul. The Church has known this from its beginning.

There is nothing about all of this that denotes a sort of "self-help" approach to Salvation. We cannot save ourselves by human "works"; human works alone are of no avail. We are obliged, however, to respond to God. God offers - we respond. And response involves more than smiles, pious thoughts and good wishes. Our response is found in our human, bodily activity. Actions do, as the saying goes, speak louder than words. "It is not those who cry out Lord, Lord," said Jesus, "who will be saved. It is those who do the Word of God and keep It." Without our response, nothing happens within us.

God is at work. God is offering, calling, inviting and making Himself present to us in His Christ. And Christ is working on us and encountering us in His Mystical Body, the Church. He is working to bring about our Salvation. lamb_of_god.jpg (215167 bytes) He even suffered and died for our sins. He suffered and died in order that His Father might, by the power of the Holy Spirit, raise up His Humanity from the dead, Spirit-filled and Glorified, Victorious over sin and death, and provide us with the opportunity to join ourselves into His Body and immerse ourselves in His Blood.

How, then, can we dare NOT respond? How, then, can we fail to act? How, then, can we possibly ignore Him and turn away from all that God is doing for us in His Christ?

Now is the time of our Salvation. Now the day is at hand. Now is the opportunity to act. Now is the time for Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving, so that we might empty ourselves of all that brings death, and make room for the Source of Life to enter into us, to marry Himself to us, and to make us one with Him forever in Paradise. For Lent has but one purpose, and none other -

 

Lent exists in order to prepare us for the
Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

 

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