A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Holy Season Of Lent

by Fr Kevin Head sm

by Fr Kevin Head sm

A man I once knew used to give up alcohol and cigarettes during Lent. During the rest of the year he consumed both commodities in significant quantities so it was a big effort for him.

He was steadfast in his self-denial, and year after year he arrived at Easter Sunday triumphant, with neither a drop of alcohol nor a puff of smoke having passed his lips. He had certainly done his penance, as Lent had been an absolute agony for him – there was barely an iota of joy in the whole forty days!

Lent was an even greater agony for his wife and children. The man of the house was grumpy and intolerable for six weeks. It was hardly surprising  that his wife and family came to dislike the holy season of Lent. The penance of the father fell on the other members of the household; his penance became theirs, and they rejoiced when Easter arrived – not because Christ was risen, but because the normal tenor of family life was restored when the first drink and the first smoke were enjoyed in celebration of the Lord’s rising.

It is good for us to do something that costs us an effort during Lent. Whatever we do or don’t do, though, should not cause pain to other people because we are grumpy and hard to get on with.

Nor should whatever it is we have resolved to do make us miserable. If we are bags of misery, then whatever we are trying to do is probably too much for us at present, and it’s better to try something else. Whatever effort we make for Lent should not cause us to be wretched.

It is good if repentance is an aspect of our Lenten prayer and effort, and if we ask God to help us to change the things in our lives that need changing and that we can change.

It is also good to make an extra effort to express our gratitude during Lent. We have so much for which to be grateful. We can be grateful that God does not expect us to be perfect by the end of this Lent, for example, and that God asks of us no more than to take the small manageable steps that God gives us the grace to take during this holy season, so that we grow to be more like Christ.

We can be grateful that Christ died on the cross once and for all, and that we don’t have to. All God asks of us is to do the best we can, day by day, hour by hour, and to let God do the rest. And that we not be grumpy, but cheerful – even joyful!

The spirit of Lent is expressed beautifully in one of the Lenten poems from the Divine Office, ‘To Keep a True Lent,’ by Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674):

Is this a Fast, to keep

    The larder lean?

    And clean

        From fat of veals and sheep?

Is it to quit the dish

    Of flesh, yet still

    To fill

        The platter high with fish?

Is it to fast an hour,

    Or ragg’d to go,

    Or show

        A down-cast look and sour?

No: ‘tis a Fast to dole

    Thy sheaf of wheat

    And meat

        Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife

    And old debate,

    And hate;

        To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent;

    To starve thy sin,

    Not bin;

        And that’s to keep thy Lent.

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