As we come towards the end of the season of Lent, it might be helpful to reflect on Bishop Sylvester David’s reflection from his column in the most recent edition of the Archdiocesan News:
Lent as a gracious gift from God
Some have been accustomed to seeing Lent as a dry season filled with gloom. But the opposite is true. Lent comes from an Old English word lencten meaning spring when the promise of new life becomes evident. Lent is a joyful season.
How can Lent be joyful when we have to give up pleasures? Simply because any turning toward the Lord is a joyful experience – both for the Lord (Lk 15:7; 10) and also for us (Pr 3:13; Ps 40:4). We also need to distinguish between joy and pleasure. Pleasure is what the world offers and which we receive through the senses. It could be either good and bad – e.g. watching a good movie is pleasurable in the good sense but watching something indecent is not. Joy, on the other hand, is what the Lord gives (Jn 15:11). This is not the same as pleasurable sensations. It is an internal condition of knowing that “all shall be well” (cf. Mother Juliana of Norwich who lived through a plague which devastated England from 1348-1350). The gift of joy is what enables us to tearfully bury our loved ones and still have the certainty that there will be light at the end of the tunnel. Joy enables us to face situations of death with hope and with peace. Jesus reminds us that the peace which he gives is not what the world gives (Jn 14:27). Peace and joy are co-relative terms meaning that we cannot have one without the other.
Let us therefore fully embrace this gift of the lenten season to fine tune our motives and perspectives so as to participate more fully in the life of faith.
Minds made pure
Minds made pure refers to conversion. We frequently equate conversion to a change of heart and that is not bad, but it needs to be refined a bit. The word for conversion in the NT literally means “to go beyond ones ordinary way of thinking”. It is an invitation to see the world through new lenses and to broaden ones vision. Going beyond this ordinary way of thinking so as to embrace God’s logic is what conversion is all about. This is why the Church defines faith as an intellectual assent to the truth. We experience a change of mind and the change of heart follows.
This is also how the Gospel writers define enlightenment, discipleship, and the path to eternal life. Seeing, understanding, and having faith are all conveyed by words which indicate going beyond ones ordinary way of thinking and embracing a faith perspective. Lent gives us an opportunity to see whether our judgements and thoughts fit into the template shown in the Gospels, or whether we have to make adjustments. The way in which I treat my neighbour, who is just as precious to God as I am, can be a good indicator. Although the Church speaks of renewing the mind, conversion is not abstract. It is always embedded in our lived experiences and in our relationships.
Eagerly intent on prayer
Nutritionists advise us to drink before we become thirsty so as to remain properly hydrated. To wait until we are grossly thirsty and then to gulp water is not good. Similarly we need to pray prior to experiencing need. That way when the time comes to articulate a need we do what comes naturally to the Christian. St Paul reminds us to pray at all times (1Thes 5:17).
But what is prayer? There are several words for prayer in the Bible e.g. petition, praise, thanksgiving, adoration, and contemplation. The last two categories describe the true attitude of a genuine believer before God. It is to know ones place before the Divinity and it is linked to the virtue of piety. This is the type of prayer Jesus called for in Mt 6:5-8. There is liturgical prayer and there is private prayer. There is communal prayer and individual prayer. There is priestly prayer such as the Mass and the Divine Office, and also devotional prayer. All these prayers are celebrated by all the baptized whether ordained or not, each participating according to what he or she has been called to in the Church. These days many lay people pray the Divine Office and so engage in the priestly prayer of the Church just as they do when they attend Mass.
Lent is a time to sharpen our awareness of the need to pray and, through prayer, to become more and more reflective of the Body of Christ which we are meant to be.
Works of charity
Love of God is shown in love of neighbour. One can see this clearly in the first reading (Is 58:1-9) of the first Friday of Lent in which we are reminded rather forcefully by the prophet that service to the poor is not an optional extra or something that is added on to our faith lives. It is the very substance of our faith. All else is mere lip service.
Let us use this invitation to engage in works of charity so as to make our participation in the sacred mysteries more real, more meaningful and more biblical.
Participating in the mysteries. Who can participate?
This is not only for the Catechumens who will be baptised at Easter but for all disciples of Jesus. All need to participate wholeheartedly in the mysteries of the faith. In this regard we will do well to enlist the help of Psalm 24 which asks: “Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?” (Ps 24:3) – in other words: “who shall rightfully offer worship or participate in the mysteries of salvation?” The psalm continues in verse 4-6 to give very clear indications of who shall be admitted into the divine presence.
Whenever we go to functions we ensure that we are suitably attired. The more important the function, the more impressive and glamorous the fashions will be. St Paul, speaking of the Christian life in the third chapter of his letter to the Colossians, urges us to seek the things of Christ. A reading of this chapter is highly recommended. It ends with advice on how to live together as a family. When describing the profile of the Christian community, after recommending the virtues, the Apostle urges us to “put on love” (Col 3:14). Love is the garment by which the Christian is recognised.
Lent is a useful time to examine our lifestyles and see where we need to grow. A good place to start is to see what my family life is like and to honestly see how I fit in – as a peacemaker, or a trouble monger? As someone who forgives, or someone who bears grudges? As someone who is selfish, or someone who is generous? As someone who is compassionate, or someone who is hard of heart? St Paul’s hymn to love in 1 Cor 13 is another good text to assist in this exercise.
I wish you a joyful return to the Lord during this holy season.
+Sylvester David OMI
Auxiliary Bishop of Cape Town