Leaning Into Lent
By: David Philippart
The turning of the moon around the earth, the turning of the earth around the sun, the passing over of nights into days, all conspire to bring us back home. The calendar calls us to turn anew toward God. It’s almost Lent. Our Old English-speaking forbearers named this time of year “Lent,” from their word to “lengthen.” They noticed that since Christmas (December 21, actually) the hours of sunlight, even when clouded over, perceptibly grow longer each day. We no longer leave home in the dark and return there in the dark every day. Each day is indeed lengthening.
And Lent is the season of “lengthening” in other ways, too. Lent is the time to stretch and warm up muscles (both corporal and spiritual) that have grown sluggish in winter. So like a Crossroads runner before her morning run, we gently reach for our toes, hold and pause, reach for the heavens, feeling the muscles stretch and come back to life. We bend and we breathe. Lent is the time to stretch muscles of mercy, reaching out for others, especially those whom decent people do not dare touch. God then pulls on us and gently lengthens our limits, broadens our vision, extends our bonds of family to embrace even more people. Let’s be moved to compassion this Lent!
How? How do we work to love God and neighbor more deeply, even to love ourselves to the point where we can take seriously Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself?” How do we train in Lent? The gospel we proclaim this week on Ash Wednesday, lays out the plan. Jesus says, “When you fast . . .when you pray. . .when you give alms. . . .”
We take up with renewed enthusiasm the three ancient, tried-and-true spiritual practices of fasting, praying, and giving alms. These, of course, are things we do all the time. But come Lent, come this Wednesday, we take them up again deliberately, more seriously, intently, with focus. We take them up knowing that Jews and Muslims also fast, pray, and give alms; knowing that even people of good will who have no religion also fast and give to those in need. (These are spiritual practices that truly care for body, mind, and soul.)
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, called by Pope Francis in December, we take up fasting, prayer and giving to those in need specifically by being sent from Mass each Sunday of Lent to do the works of mercy, corporal and spiritual. Here at Old St. Patrick’s, we will weekly challenge and encourage each other to fast, pray, and give by feeding the hungry, giving drink those who thirst, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, visiting the prisoner, burying the dead. (Wait. What? How will I….Stay tuned! Come and see!) We will weekly be commissioned to leave Mass each Sunday to go and counsel the doubtful, instruct those who do not know better, encourage those doing wrong to do right, comfort the sorrowing, forgive those who hurt us, bear wrongs done to us with love, and pray for the living and the dead. You won’t want to miss Sunday Mass in Lent here as we figure out how, as modern disciples of Jesus, we do these things in our day and circumstances!
We need to gather on the Sundays of Lent around Word and Table because otherwise we won’t fast, pray, and give alms effectively. We need God and we need each other now more than ever. Because we are pregnant. Yep. As Old St. Patrick’s, we are eight months along, with nine to be born again of water and Spirit. We have nine to baptize, confirm, and welcome to eucharist: Amy Lynne Altheimer, Stephanie Chisti, Joanne Keung, Tracey Konicek, Angela Limburg, Matthew McLaughlin, Alycia Kathleen Storr, Jennifer White, and Taylor Verdon. Our water breaks on Easter’s Eve, Saturday, March 26, at 8:00 PM. It’s going to be a rigorous labor. And so very worth it: new life, Easter joy, a summer for our souls. Let’s get ready. Let’s lean into Lent.
David Philippart is the Director of Liturgy at Old St. Patrick’s Church.