The Season of Lent
In this short homily for 1st Sunday of Lent, Year A, Father Hanly helps us understand the season of Lent.
Readings for First Sunday of Lent, Year A
- First Reading: Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17
- Second Reading: Romans 5:12-19 or 5:12, 17-19
- Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11
The season of Lent is upon us. The purpose of Lent is to prepare us for the three most sacred days of the Church year: Holy Thursday with the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday with the Lord’s Passion, and Holy Saturday with the Lord’s triumph, the Easter Vigil.
Now the word ‘Lent’ itself means ‘springtime!’ “Springtime in March?” you well might ask. The answer is “Yes!” In ancient English, the word ‘lent’ is short for ‘lengthening,’ as in ‘when winter’s darkness begins to give way to the ever lengthening light of day.’
Lent, then, announces the beginning of the Church’s springtime.
And while Lent is, indeed, a penitential season — calling us to turn our lives around and bring our hearts back to God — it’s not to become a time for moaning and groaning, or beating our heads against the ground in shame for past sins and present failings.
Rather, it’s a time to rise up and prepare ourselves to greet the dawn of a new season of hope and joy, and for our catechumens it means to be given the hope of a whole new life in baptism.
Lent is first and foremost the celebration of the presence of the Lord among us. For he has come indeed, and he comes to stay: to live with us, to suffer with us, even to die to the past and rise with us to embrace a newness of life together. The saving grace of Jesus, and his redeeming presence, are with us again, and always, as is spoken in the Bible, “His love is everlasting.”
What, then, are the works that we are called to do during this Lenten Season — we who are called to change the world?
How small and insignificant are we, and hardly able for the task. And yet, consider for a moment the fireflies.
When I was a boy in a summer’s night, I loved to sneak out of bed, run to my window and gaze out at the fireflies, the smallest of the smallest of God’s creatures. I’d gaze and look upon how they darted about every-which-way, seemingly with neither rhyme nor reason, but still driving back the night with their dancing fires, turning darkness into flickering lights, and filling my eyes with wonder and flooding an empty heart with new hope and dreams.
So too, must we learn from the fireflies, and let our good works shine forth and dart about with the light of Christ and the warmth of his love in the darkening worlds in which we now live, and listen to the words of Jesus our Lord, “Let your light shine before others, so that seeing the lovely things you do, they may give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
Since ancient times there have been only three basic works common to a proper Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Prayer, for the good of our soul:
A return to a daily, intimate dialogue with God, speaking and listening with the heart, experiencing His presence and love not only in the safety of our own solitude but in the work of building up a community of love with each other — remembering his words, “Wherever two or three of you are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of you.”
For this, during this sacred season, we must search out quiet places and, even more important, learn to sit still!
Fasting, for the good of the body:
Fasting to feel and share the hunger of the breadless poor and taste the tears of those who live on the edges of despair. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice sake”… those who work for the growth of peace and harmony, for the righting of wrongs, for the breaking down of barriers and for a new birth of compassion, understanding and love in this world…
Yes, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice sake, for they shall be satisfied.” Christ is one with them when he cries out from the cross: “I thirst.” Who, if not we, are listening? Who, if not we, are to respond? Take courage: For as it is written: “In the chaos of learning to love, we are redeemed.”
Almsgiving, for the good of our neighbour:
To take upon ourselves personal responsibility for helping a brother or sister in need is to reach out and touch God Himself. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren this you do unto me.” (Matthew25:40)
Let us end with the words of an ancient Gaelic song spoken in honor of Jesus and the Lenten Season.
We saw a stranger yesterday.
We put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place.
And with the sacred name of the triune God
He blest us and our house,
Our cattle and our dear ones.
Just as the lark sings in her song:
Often, often, often goes the Christ, our Lord Jesus,
Masked in the guise of a stranger.