Lent is upon us again! Once more, our loving God reaches out to you and me.
But there is something different about this season of spiritual renewal. That is,
we hear the repentance call in a land of exile. The pandemic has alienated
many a people from life as it is normally known; there has been an
uncountable loss of lives; good health has been jeopardized; an entire year of
restrictions, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders has rewired our minds and
perception of reality; worse still, a good number of folks, young as well as
advanced, now thread the thin line between sanity and mental imbalance. This
is the peculiar context of this Lenten period. One might therefore ask: Of what
relevance is God’s invitation to me in this current state of my life? Profound
question! But before trying to answer it, let us understand the message of the
readings of this Ash Wednesday.
Addressing Yahweh’s words to his covenant people in spiritual exile, the
prophet Joel proclaims: “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your
whole heart”. Joel prophesied at a time of political division of Israel between
northern and southern kingdoms. The people were torn apart and ruled by
foreign nations who did not know God. The prophet therefore convoked the
whole people to deep, immediate, conversion of heart. This was the only way
to receive Yahweh’s mercy and avoid the impending judgement (Cf. Joel 2:12-
18). St. Paul continues the same line of thought in his Second Letter to the
Corinthians. He invites the people of the new covenant to “be reconciled to
God”, not at their earliest convenience but “now”. “Now is the day of
salvation”, he says (cf. 2 Cor.5:20 - 6:2). And, last not least, in the Gospel
reading, Jesus teaches his listeners, the new Israel that, the spiritual practise of
return to the Lord should be done quietly and exclusively between the
repentant sinner and the all-knowing God who is our Father (cf. Matt. 6:1-6.
Now let us repeat the earlier question: Of what relevance is God’s invitation to
me in this current state of my life? Besides, what does Lent mean for one who
struggles? Of what use is it to folks who feel alienated from, overwhelmed, or
even abandoned, by life? Finally, does this season of return to the Lord offer
any real chance of survival, hope and may be, joy? Tough questions, no doubt!
Indeed, my answers might never wipe a tear. Yet, as acutely aware as I am of
my inability to make red-light turn green, even more so am I of God’s ability to
write straight and legibly on very crooked lines. Hence, with the lenses of faith,
I read that, the tortuous lines of the actual pandemic are actually God’s loud
voice which calls upon us. He summons each one of us, as a good father does
to his loving kids, to discontinue with old ways of living and embrace his gift of
new life. Thus, there is no doubt that Lent is relevant to our existence
nowadays. But, to welcome the Lord’s gift of new life, we need to recognise
our faults (contrition), call out our idols and denounce them (detachment),
plead for God’s mercy (prayer), show compassion to others, especially the less
privileged (almsgiving) as well as deepen our union with the Lord
Moreover, one may ask: After Lent, what next? The Psalmist gives the answer:
“The joy of salvation […] and my mouth shall proclaim your praise” (Ps.
51:12.13). Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit; it is the outcome of inner
transformation of heart and mind; it is the offspring of reconciliation with God
our Father; and it is also the product of a quiet, deep, personal relationship
with God, our loving Father. My brothers and sisters, we have been tested like
never by the actual pandemic. Yet, we are a people of faith. Received at
baptism, this supernatural gift of God enables us to entrust our lives without
reserve into God’s loving hands.
Finally, I pray that this holy season of Lent may open wide the doors of our
hearts to God’s love and mercy, so that our spiritual exercises may draw us
closer to the Lord, while also making us more mindful of the needs of our
fellow human beings, especially those gravely affected by COVID-19 virus. May
the Blessed Virgin Mary, the holy Mother of God, Comfort of the Afflicted and
Health of the Sick, intercede for each one of us as well as accompany us during
these forty days of pilgrimage to God our Father, through and with His Beloved
Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the life-giving and sanctifying Holy Spirit,
three divine persons, one and only true God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Have a blessed and joy-filled Lent!
United in prayer,
Fr. Patrick C. Ezimora CCE
(St. Mary’s Brampton, ON)