Lent can be 'exceedingly good'
Posted: Wed, 17 Feb 2021 09:19
As Lent begins, Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB reminds us that even in difficult times, with a generous heart, we can find the seriously good in everyone around us this Lent. Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash
There is a certain manufacturer of cake that tells us, in its advertising campaign, that it makes more than just good cakes—it produces exceedingly good cakes. Likewise, a younger, and very enthusiastic member of my family tends to see life not just as a 'good' experience, but SERIOUSLY GOOD. We have our heroes in the Church such as Mary, Dominic Savio, John Paul II and Oscar Romero. We need these saints as guides and mentors, but, according to another great hero of the Church, Don Bosco, we are all called to sanctity. Without a shadow of doubt, my young relative is a saint and a hero for me: her zest and energy for life is infectious and certainly captures the light of Easter joy in the darkest of times.
In this time of lockdown your patience has, most likely, been tried, as we have learned to live without going OUT for work, school, recreation and worship. We have had to adopt a new way of relating to people, especially those who are so close to us. Today, thank God for the heroes you live with and for all their positive qualities that have, hopefully, shone through. Of course, there will be wobbles: those temper tantrums, raised voices, slammed doors and the words we should not have used. However, we are a community of reconciliation and so we are invited to forgive.
Think of those champions today and always: as an educator, I thank God for those heroes who have been part of my journey. To that endless list of colleagues, students, family and friends I owe a huge THANK YOU! I am sure you have an equally long list—perhaps, during Lent, you could offer a prayer or thought for each one of them on each of the days of this sacred time.
The poet John O'Donohue offers us sound advice for this time of Lent—and we need to use this time to build up our energy that has been drained during our own pandemic times. We have to have that vision to see the 'seriously good' that every new day offers us. We can use Lent to take away the doubt, worries and pain that have could have accumulated in us over this year. O'Donohue invites us to share our spirit of generosity as we move through this season, as we breathe the air of kindness and enjoy the 'seriously good' to the max.
This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning
John O'Donohue in 'Benedictus: a Book of Blessings', (published in the US as 'To Bless the Space Between Us')
I am lucky to be able to spend most evenings with 'Bosco'—in case you are wondering, 'Bosco' is our house cat and I find that twenty minutes with him after supper very supportive in these days. I wrote some months ago about how my family animal, donkeys, sheep, chickens and Bailey, our spaniel, kept me sane during the loneliness of lockdown isolation during the summer. 'Bosco' shows me that same unconditional acceptance that gives me a feeling that is seriously good. I am so blessed that I have a wonderful Salesian community of friendship that is my home, but my nightly quality time with 'Bosco' helps me see the importance of pets in the lives of so many people, especially those who are shielding.
Another family member wrote to me this week about her unusual encounter with a dog while out walking. She is naturally gregarious and got into conversation with the dog's owner. As she left to go her own way, something fascinating happened: the dog, a Labrador, rose up on its hind legs, placing its front paws around her neck. In a time when hugging is not allowed, she found this an interesting meeting—this strange hug was seriously good. In these times we need to look for the goodness of God in a season that might appear to be strange and very different: the created order of God is blessed and is seriously good.
However, your Lenten journey pans out this year, I pray that you can see the 'seriously good' in life. We have all given up so much over this time and I hope that you too might get a hug—even from the strangest of sources. Lent 2021 will take us to new places, if we allow the Spirit to guide us. Lent can be transformative if we allow ourselves to enter into the excitement. Pope Francis urges us to use this Lent as a time to change and show some 'seriously good' love:
Love rejoices in seeing others grow. Hence it suffers when others are anguished, lonely, sick, homeless, despised or in need.Love is a leap of the heart: it brings us out of ourselves and creates bonds of sharing and communion.
Pope Francis, Lenten Letter 11/11/2020
Lent is the annual gift we share that enables each one of us to make a fresh and exciting start. As we clean out our homes during the annual spring clean, through prayer, fasting and good works, we can cleanse our lives of those things that keep us from developing a full relationship with God and others. Our Lent should also put us into an honest evaluation of our personal spirituality and recognise those areas of our personal life that inhibit that full relationship. Lent invites us to have a long and hard good look at ourselves and wipe away that which causes harm.
Ash Wednesday has to be different in 2021 with personal contact forbidden; however, as the ashes fall gently on your head today, let it be a symbol of the enveloping love of God resting on you. We really do not need a smudgy black cross on our foreheads to show who we are. Today our gospel tells us to enjoy our fast—no gloomy faces are allowed!
As you begin your fast, is it going to be an excuse to lose that lockdown weight? We are invited to share a real fast that is going to be more than not having chocolate; we might have to fast from jealousy, anger, selfishness and gossiping. As the Holy Father reminds us, a good Lenten fast is not selfish:
Does my fast help others? If it does not it's fake, it's inconsistent and it takes you on the path to a double life, pretending to be a just Christian - like the Pharisees or the Sadducees.
Pope Francis, 18/02/2018
Together, we can all make Lent 2021 'seriously good'.
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB