By Father Joseph Breighner
So how did this happen? How did it get to be Lent in the second week of February?
Aren’t the Christmas Carols still fading in the distance? How did the most sentimental of seasons, Christmas, suddenly turn into one of the most challenging seasons, Lent? A baby’s cry evokes love and care. A cry from a cross evokes dark feelings.
As most of you know by now, Christmas is my favorite season. I celebrate the world’s Christmas Season, (what I call Commerical Christmas, or what the Church calls Advent) the month before Christmas – roughly from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day. Then I get to celebrate the Church’s Christmas Season, from Christmas Day to the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, roughly another month. So you and I get more than just “a little Christmas”. We get to celebrate a lot of Christmas.
And in my own way, I keep Christmas alive all year long, buying gifts whenever I can think of someone to buy a gift for. I’ll never forget Sister Mary Agnes SSND who died at the age of 100, and also ran the gift shop at Villa Assumpta, asking me: “What do you do with all those things you buy?” And I replied: “I put them in the back of my car, and as I visit people I always have something to give.” My car becomes a sort of Santa’s Sleigh.
So how do we transition from the sentimental to the sober? How do we go from the crib to the cross? One Christmas Carol helps me. Perhaps it may be one of your favorite’s as well. It’s entitled: “What Child Is This?” Allow me to quote the first two verses:
“What child is this, who laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.”
Doesn’t that first verse capture so much of our picture of the Nativity? It’s the only verse you are likely to hear on the air. But the second verse takes an ominous turn:
“Why lies he in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear, shall pierce him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you:
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.”
This second verse transitions us from Christmas to Lent. The crib that holds our Savior prefigures a cross that will one day hold him. The mother who holds the baby will one day hold the body of her adult, dead son.
Lent is a sobering time because life is a sobering time. God didn’t enter the world just to tell us to have a good time. God entered the world to invite us to live meaningful and loving lives. Put simply, God became human that humans might be become God, as St. Augustine reminded us.
But this transition to divinity requires letting go of, dying to, many things that keep us trapped in the ego world of mind and body. We so easily get trapped in our apathy, grief, fear, lust, anger and pride. Our egos always WANT! We want approval. We want control. We want to be safe! These wants keep us trapped forever in the world.
Lent is a time to practice minute by minute letting go of our wants. We die to these all so human feelings so that we can come alive and experience HAVING! Jesus spent his forty days in the desert facing down the devil, facing down the demons that stalked him. He was prepared for the cross in those 40 days. And in facing down even death, Jesus showed us that it isn’t life that dies on the cross, but death that dies! The purpose of Lent is not to make ourselves miserable for 40 days. The purpose of Lent is to lead us to Easter – to eternal life and eternal joy and eternal love!
Copyright (c) Feb. 14, 2013 CatholicReview.org