Today marks the beginning of Lent. Our word "Lent" derives from a Germanic word meaning "springtime." It is easy to question the timely arrival of spring as we remain surrounded by snowbanks several feet high. Moreover, how can we consider Lent a period of refreshment and rejuvenation when we are forced to give up worldly items that we cherish? Isn't Lent supposed to remind us of our sinfulness? "Remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return."
Well, not exactly. Catholicism is the great both/and; the paradoxical nature of our faith is what stretches us to become excellent people. There is a great essay written by Father Allan James White in this month's Magnificat that captures the real purpose of this so-called springtime:
Christian self-denial has to do with growing into a new "me", but on this journey I do not become other that what I am but I become entirely what I am, which is made on the day of my baptism when I was forged into a new creation. What is the new "me" in Christian terms? How do I grow into it? The possibility of the new humanity is offered to me in Christ who is the true face of humanity. As I am drawn into communion with him and grow into his image I am becoming truly human. This is not a process of acquisition but of dispossession. When I am giving things up, I am stripping myself of the little self-protected certainties that hide me from myself and interrupt my life with others. In giving things up I am not showing how strong I am, but where my strength lies - in God who made me, shaped me, and holds me in the palm of his hand.
In giving things up, we make space for the one thing that is necessary, and what is that but God? Self-denial is not about achievement; it is about charity, love... At the heart of our life is the possibility of beginning again. In each new beginning we find the changeless, faithful fire of divine love.
Therefore, Lent is spring insofar as it represents a new beginning.
It is my prayer that all of your families will experience the revolutionary newness of divine love, which never stops surprising us. In these surprises, may we willingly surrender to the unconditional love of our merciful and humble Savior.