Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wednesday of Ember Week in Lent

Exodus 24:12-18 / 3 Kings 19:3-8 / Matthew 12:38-50

Some people look forward to Lent. There is something about the season — perhaps the Lenten music, perhaps the new intensity of prayer, perhaps its coincidence with the end of winter and the beginning of spring — that draws such persons out of the dark days of winter that are now in the past and into a renewed relationship with God and with neighbor. More than it does in any other season, the Gospel makes sense for these folks, appearing before their minds and hearts with a clarity it does not have in the rest of the year. For them, these forty days and forty nights are like those of Moses upon Sinai, who for this blessed length of days was in the very presence of the Lord his God, receiving his holy Law, the clearest expression of God's will and love for his creation outside of the Incarnation of the Word.

Others are not so enthusiastic about Lent. To be sure, they admit that Lent does them good, and they know that, once it is all over, they will be better for it. They also find themselves supported throughout the journey from Ash Wednesday to the Easter Vigil by a strength not their own, and for this they are grateful. All the same, Lent is for them a struggle and hard work, something which, were it not for the special graces of Lenten observance, they could never mange to sustain. They are like Elijah under the juniper. Disheartened by his own weakness, Elijah is roused from his sleep, as well as his desire to be done with everything, not merely once, but twice by and angel sent by God. On his second waking, the angel says to Elijah what sounds to many like the essence of Lent: Arise, eat: for thou hast yet a great way to go.

I do not suppose that either of these attitudes is more correct. Much of it may have as much to do with bodily temperament as anything else. What does unite them, however, is the need to be on guard that the graces we receive from Lent, whether as pleasant respite or difficult labor, should become fixed features of our lives. That is, we do ourselves no good to become better selves for this span of days leading up to Easter, only to abandon the new self we have received by grace just as quickly. Unless we embrace not merely the joy or the struggle, but rather more the new man into which Christ is making us, we will become like the man from whom an unclean spirit is driven out, which spirit goeth, and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in in dwell there: and the last state of that man is made worse than the first.

To be truly kin to Christ, to be his brother, and sister, and mother through doing the will of his heavenly Father is the whole point of this season. Whether we become that sort of person more readily by our Lenten fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, or whether these are for us a difficult task, it is being kin to Jesus that must be at the heart of our desire. Lent may be our happiest or most trying time, but either way it opens for us the occasion to make more present to ourselves the happy burden of our baptism and our new life in Christ.

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