Years ago, a visitor to our family home asked my dad, “What is the weather like in Butte, Montana?” My father’s reply caught our guest off guard. “We have nine months of winter, and three months of bad sledding.”
Today, as I write this column, the temperature is below zero with snow on the ground and more in the forecast. I find it difficult to anticipate the coming of Spring when the ice and cold of winter are all around us.
In just two weeks, we begin the season of Lent, a word that is synonymous with Springtime. The old English word “lenthen” is the root of the word Lent, a time when the darkness and cold of winter gives way to the light and life of Spring.
But the “lentening” of days offers us an opportunity to look deep within our hearts. Lent bids us to look at Christ anew, who is the source of light and life, and who offers perennial Springtime to those who walk in the light of faith.
The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, describes the season of Lent as a “privileged time of interior pilgrimage toward Him Who is the fount of mercy.”
Pope Benedict assures us, that even in the deepest winter of our hearts, “God does not allow darkness to prevail.”
Over forty years ago, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wisely called the whole Church to a life of holiness. They counseled every Christian that Christ, the Divine Teacher, “preached holiness of life to each and every one of His disciples, regardless of their situation.”
During the beautiful season of Lent, our spiritual springtime, the Church invites us to take stock of our relationship with Christ and with one another, examined through the light of the Gospel.
The season of Lent accords us the opportunity to ask ourselves important and penetrating questions: “How am I doing spiritually today?” Is my spiritual life vigorous and healthy or lukewarm and tentative? Am I, in the words of Pope Benedict, living Lent as a time in which I “welcome the love of Jesus, and spread it around with every word and deed?”
In order to use these blessed days wisely and well, I propose the following questions as a way to enrich this season of spiritual Springtime.
- Am I taking time to read prayerfully the words of Sacred Scripture, remembering the counsel of St. Jerome that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
- Am I actively participating in Mass with attentiveness and care, preferably on a daily basis?
- Have I discovered the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a wellspring of grace and an intimate encounter with the Divine Physician?
- Have I set aside a daily time for prayer and contemplation, which has the power to transform the works, joys and sufferings of everyday life?
- Am I taking time to read the spiritual works of the Church, especially the lives of the Saints, who are given to us as models of holiness, and who pray for us “now and at the hour of our death?”
- Have I made the words of the Eucharistic Prayer my own, “That we might live no longer for ourselves, but for Him.”
- Am I exercising greater self discipline and controlling the excesses of my life -food, drink, television, internet, telephone, etc.
- Am I acquainted with the virtue of compunction, which deflates the ego and re-directs self-centeredness and humble service?
- Am I actively attempting to reconcile broken relationships within my family, workplace and circle of friends?
- Have I discovered the power of simple words like “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you?”
- Am I seeing the connection between love of God and love of neighbor by engaging in humble service to persons in greater need than myself?
- Am I willing to use a portion of my week to visit the sick, help at a local food bank, or donate a portion of my income to ease the burdens of the poor?
- Am I engaging in simple acts of kindness - visiting a lonely neighbor, phoning aging parents, or writing a letter to a long lost friend?
- Am I lifting my eyes beyond my local community in order to see the pressing needs of the world community?
- Am I willing to my spend time, talent or treasure to help address the crushing health and poverty needs in Third World countries, especially through political action or monetary assistance for world relief agencies?
- Am I owning my responsibility to evangelize others by living a life of Christian joy, and inviting them to experience the spiritual riches of the Church?
- Does my daily life draw others to Christ and the Church, or repel them away?
Even in the dark, cold days of winter the hours of daylight are growing longer. In Montana, we may not see evidence of budding trees and tulips, or hear the sound of songbirds for many weeks to come. But we still share the promises of spiritual springtime.
Albert Camus inadvertently captured the essence of Lent’s deepest promise in his poetic words, “In the midst of winter, I discovered that there was within me an invincible spring.”
As Lent draws to a close, the whole Church will burst forth with the power of Easter, when Christ’s Resurrection transforms death and darkness into Light and Life.
“Christ Our Light!”
“Thanks be to God!”
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 23, No. 2, February 16, 2007.