In my memories, Lent has always been associated with early spring and penance. On one side, you have the end of partying and fun, which are replaced with fasts, solemn songs in church, as well as various voluntary deprivations. On the other, you begin to feel the promise of spring in the air.
If we but follow the simple call of the Church — fasting, prayer, reconciliation — this mixture of total renewal encompassing soul, body and nature is strengthened day by day, as Lent progresses.
Lent is a magical time, filled with gifts of the Holy Spirit, which fall upon us like the first soft rain of the spring, the one that washes off winter dust and wakes up the seeds within earth. We miss these gifts, oh so often, burdened by worries, illnesses, fears, incessant work, greed, possessions and the perpetual haste we live in.
That is why attending Lenten missions and retreats is so important. These days tear us away from what is small, earth bound and transient to let us taste what is wonderful and eternal — our future.
I remember coming back from a mission Mass and hearing the cry of the returning geese up, up above the clouds. I looked up, trying to see them in the greyness of the sky and suddenly I was overwhelmed by God's love for the world and myself.
In this love, we were one — the innocent geese, which by God's design migrate for thousands of miles, and I, a human child, repeatedly sinful, leaving God to tread my selfish paths, but with a way to return always open and waiting.
The geese had their sky trails, I had my spiritual ones. They were returning home to their marshlands and lakes, once again. I was returning home, to God my eternal Father, once again. They were tired, some feathers missing maybe, aching for rest, but happy with the anticipation of familiar waters. I bore my invisible bruises of guilt and betrayals, but felt the rising of joy of God's forgiveness within.
There was something in the air, too — scent of swelling buds on bare trees? Of earth freed from snow and frost? Even voices of children talking as they stood in front of the church sounded different — purer, silvery in the falling darkness of this pre-spring evening.
The secret joy of Lent lies in obedience to God, which counters the disobedience of the first couple. The forbidden fruit was "good for food," so we fast. Fasting has great power to renew both body and soul. It is for a reason that, along with prayer, it is practised by exorcists.
The fruit was "pleasing to the eyes," so we starve our senses by depriving ourselves of, for instance, the pleasure of watching movies or listening to music. "Be still and know that I am God." Without internal and external silence we will not create space for the return of the King, Jesus.
The fruit was "desirable for gaining wisdom" so maybe cutting out hours spent on the Internet would be an answer. Knowledge leads to God only if we are united with him.
If, say, while reading about the unrest in North Africa, we do not pray for God's presence in this difficult situation, what is the use for this knowledge? If we hear about another crime and do not pray for both the victim and the perpetrator, the information is wasted on us. If we hear about injustice and do not act, . . . So, less curiosity and vain Internet forum inputs; more prayer.
I noticed that simple prayer I found easier when I become "a beginner" once again — a Hail Mary for a friend who has just passed away, a child's smile to Mary, accompanied by a few private words to her who is my mother in heaven, "Jesus, I trust in you" to him who has died for me out of love, for me, the unloving one.
Yes, Lent is a wonderful time. Enjoy it.