Local News Archive
Print Issue: February 18, 1982
Lent Has Not Been Abandoned
By Fr. Frederick R. Flaherty, MS, Pastor, St. Matthew's Church, Fairburn, GA
Lent is considerably more difficult today than it was in years gone by. I suppose that sounds strange. After all, we do not have the days of strict fast and abstinence, nor the acts of penance and mortification that formerly characterized this season. The Church, however, has hardly abandoned Lent, and Catholics do retain a deep awareness that these forty days are quite special.
The burden then of making lent a special time has become far more individual. A personal choice is necessary. Past structures allowed us to fit into a ready-made pattern. Oh, the pattern was demanding, but it was there to use. We fasted because the Church required fasting. Daily attendance at Mass was common. We abstained from liquor because that was the thing for Catholics to do. Young people did not go to the movies because that was a very typical Lenten sacrifice. All of this was fine and good. It was also easier. We were so easily able to drift with the Lenten current.
Today there is no such current. Strangely enough, however, there is an awareness of the sacred character of Lent that is at least as acute as in the days of well-regulated Lenten practices. If we respond to this awareness then our response must be personal and it will be demanding.
I have mixed feelings about the approach of Lent. I hate to see it come. At the same time, its approach gives me a sense of relief. I know I need the particular effort, the renewed practice of self-discipline, the opportunity to make major or minor adjustments in the course of my life, the time to reassert my values. These are days when I am better able to rise to the challenge. I know I can't, or wont, do it for the three hundred sixty-five days of the year. I can do it for these forty days so as to have a beneficial effect on the rest of the year.
An insistent theme in the early books of the Old Testament, particularly in Deuteronomy, is God's plea to His chosen people not to forget. "Make certain you do not forget the Lord your God do not become proud and forget." It's not that we deliberately forget God or the love and gratitude we should have toward Him. It's that we become so preoccupied with the burdens of our everyday struggle, that we do tend to neglect whatever does not forcefully jar our sensibilities. The here and now is our concern. Lent is an antidote to the materialism and secularism in which we live and move and have our being. Probably the basic challenge of our age is to live a life shaped by faith.
We are blessed in having Lent as a special period of awareness, of reflection, of remembering.
We read in the sixth chapter of Mark's gospel about the woman who had been afflicted with a grievous illness for a number of years. She came to meet Jesus and had to push through a jostling crowd to reach out her hand in order to experience His healing power. Life crowds us in, in the same way. There are so many people and concerns and worries that it's difficult to get through for a personal contact with Christ. The demands of making a living, raising a family, facing challenges and problems are often so great that they allow little time for explicit prayer or reflective through. During Lent we try to push through these anxieties so that we may remember and be healed.
Although this is very true, nevertheless, Lent was never intended as a time or a season for self-absorption, even self-absorption in Christ. Sacred Scripture very strongly tells us in more than one passage that our love for God can be measured by the love we show to our fellow men. We come to the God we cannot see through the people with whom we live and work. Lent is a time of exposure. It exposes our materialism. It exposes our selfishness.
These are the days to heighten our sensitivity to the poor, the sick, the alienated, the oppressed. How easy it is for us to read the daily paper or watch the news and not be truly moved or even outraged by the plight of the workers in Poland, the oppressed in El Salvador or the starving in Cambodia. But they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. When I was hungry, naked, in prison, you did not come to me! Oh, maybe we can't be on the scene or do anything immediate for some of these people but Lent must be a time for at least raising our consciousness of the pitiful conditions of millions of terribly unfortunate people throughout the world. Moreover, there certainly are needy people on our own scene. Of them we must be aware, and in our awareness, helpful. These are days for the sensitivity of Christ to enrich our lives and through us, bring Christ's practical love to others.
Over fifty years ago T. S. Eliot wrote his poem, Ash Wednesday, and he offered some rather paradoxical advice:
"Teach us to care and not to care/Teach us to sit still."
It's a challenge to each one of us during Lent to learn to care about what is essential or important and to set our minds at ease about the rest. It's a profound challenge in our world of frantic activity to be able to sit still in heart and mind. This is the opportunity Lent offers.
I know I'll be far better off on Easter Sunday -- and Christ's resurrection will truly be vital in my life -- if I have readied myself through the forty days of Lent.