The season of Great Lent is upon us! For Eastern Catholics it has already begun. Among Maronite Catholics today is the first day of Lent. And for our Roman Catholic brethren Lent will start this Wednesday. But how often we approach Lent with a sense of foreboding and dread. Lent is not a time for us to put on sad faces because our diet has been restricted, or we have chosen to give up our favorite chocolate desert, or perhaps we have sworn off any alcoholic beverage. Lent is not about "giving things up." Lent is about new beginnings. It is the time where we "await in joyful hope, the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ" as is prayed daily in the Roman Mass. It is a "new springtime" as is prayed in Great Vespers in the Byzantine tradition. It is a time for healing from the wounds of sin and the passions as we prayed in Safro/Morning Prayer in the Maronite tradition this morning.
Lent is a time to "gather our thoughts" which are so often scattered by the cares and allure of the world. We gather our thoughts in order to descend into our hearts, there to encounter the living God that we may glorify Him "far from the trouble of this world" (Opening Prayer for Safro of Cana Sunday).
Again, Lent is a time of new beginnings. For us Christians New Years Day ought not to be the time to be making resolutions. Rather, our resolutions, our spiritual resolutions, are made for Lent. Is your prayer life suffering? Dedicate more time to pray during Lent. Develop the habit of prayer during Lent and let that habit continue on even past Easter Sunday. Do you feel you need to read more Scripture? Devote yourself to reading/praying Scripture for ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes a day during Lent and then continue that practice even when the fasting has ended and the feasting has begun. Do you have one habitual sin that keeps cropping up in your life? Devote yourself to uprooting that sin from your life during Lent and then continue to uproot it throughout the rest of your life.
To many Roman Catholics today the fasting rules for Great Lent among Eastern Catholics may seem strange and severe. Ideally we eat no meat, no dairy, no fish, no oil, and we drink no wine (or other alcoholic beverage). Basically during Great Lent Eastern Catholics and Orthodox become vegans. This is not in order to make our fasting more severe than others. Nor is it to deny the good that these other forms of food present to us. Rather such strict fasting is o remind us of the days prior to the Fall of mankind, when Adam and Eve truly only ate the fruits and vegetables of the Garden of Eden, and existed in peace with the animals therein.
During Lent we look to that time prior to the Fall. We attempt through our own efforts to restore that pristine relationship with God, creation, and one another that we enjoyed prior to the Fall. Inevitably we fail. But we must struggle. Our salvation depends on it. We do not work out our own salvation. We act in synergy with God and His grace. Although we may fail along the road, God wants us to work with Him, to show Him that we take His gift of salvation seriously. That is why we have these forty days of Lent. We do our part so that when we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ we recognize that it is ultimately through God that our salvation comes, and through Him that we are recreated and restored to that pristine relationship we enjoyed prior to our Fall. We reach for the gift of recreation, but ultimately it is God who places the gift in our hands.
So let's start afresh. May this Lent be for all of us a time of spiritual renewal. May we all strive to re-enter the Garden, so that at the close of Lent we may glorify God for restoring us and sing out "Christ is risen!!!" May heaven consume us.