It may seem strange, however, that the Church refers to this time as a joyful season. Because of the focus on penance and the suffering of Jesus, many mistakenly see this season as a time of sadness and sorrow. It decidedly is not. Perhaps there is a feel of somberness because everything gets muted, the church vestments go purple, and the emphasis is on renunciation which can be difficult. We do remember the suffering of Jesus, and yes, this is a cause for sadness. But the story does not end in death. Lent is about the great gift we have been given by God who sent His only Son into the world to save us. Salvation is a great joy! This gift, an unfathomable grace, gives us joy because of the immense love with which it was given. We also rejoice because we have been given a chance to clean up that which has become marred by sin. The journey (Lent) is as important as the destination (Easter). We are working with Jesus, letting Him lead us during these 40 days. The joy in this is that we will not be alone and He does hear our prayer for help. In short, Lent is a time when we are deluged with great waves of grace. It is nothing less than this.
The author of the book of Sirach wrote that God gave us the gift of free choice. “If you choose you can keep the commandments; it is loyalty to do his will…. Before man are life and death, whichever he chooses shall be given him.” (Sirach 15:15,17) God does not force us to keep the commandments; He gave them to us so that we would know the way to stay closest to Him. He sent His Son, Jesus, so that we would have one like ourselves, though also God, who would liberate us from the power of sin and death. Jesus taught us what the Father intended from the beginning: the law is about love. If we love one another as we are loved by the Father, with mercy and compassion, then we will be choosing the way that leads to life.
It is important that we realize that while Lent is about growth in our individual relationship with God, it is not only about ourselves. Our spiritual life concerns the world. Jesus did not save only one of us: He offered salvation to all people through His death and resurrection. Therefore Lent is about all of us collectively praying for reparation of the effects of sin on the entire world. We do not only pray for our personal, individual return to the Lord. We also pray for the return of all those who do not know the Father or His Son, all who have never heard the Gospel message, all whose hearts have grown cold or hardened, and all who wish to do evil. We do penance and pray for all the broken places in the world that are suffering from natural disaster, drought, famine, war, disease, and indifference. We pray especially for the people who live in poverty, hunger, fear, persecution, marginalization, are war-torn, or victimized by injustice. We pray for those who suffer from neglect, loneliness, the ravages and loss due to debilitating illness or grief, or who carry the burden of being caretakers for those who are suffering horribly, powerless to do anything to take away the pain. We do penance and pray for those who are imprisoned by mental illness, addiction, or who have fallen into crime and have been incarcerated. We pray also for the victims of crime. Our prayers are for the same waves of grace we receive individually to be a healing force in the world around us.
May we pray for waves of God’s grace to wash over us and over our world! May we trust that grace is being given, and receive it with open hearts! May we pray for the grace to persevere during this Lenten journey, asking for the courage to see what we may need to change within ourselves! May we rely on faith, hope, and love as we allow the Lord to show us what action we are called to take in order to participate in healing the world just a bit more with every encounter! And may we continue to be a source of mercy and compassion, imitating the One we serve! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
(For Julie, with love.) The first image is a color woodblock print called The Great Wave of Kanagawa. It is from a series of 36 views of Mount Fuji by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. (1760-1849). The prints are in the public domain. Information on them, and a view of all 36 of the prints, can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty-six_Views_of_Mount_Fuji
I chose this print because it reminded me of how grace can wash away all that needs to be cleansed, that grace can come in both power and beauty, and that grace is always alive and moving, such as the sea.
The icon is The Holy Spirit, The Paraclete, The Lord and Giver of Life, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-holy-spirit-the-lord-the-giver-of-life-the-paraclete-sender-of-peace-william-hart-mcnichols.html
All the photos are my own. The first was taken on the island of Oahu near the north shore. The second is Multnomah Falls in Oregon. (Sometimes grace can pour over us in breathtaking beauty.) And the third, at the end of the post, was also taken in Oregon, at the coast.