Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Feb. 26, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
We are all culturally familiar with the gigantic countdown that occurs during the wintry weeks that lead up to Christmas. It seems that everyone, from children to shopkeepers, counts the number of days until the Great Feast. Children are eager to open presents; shopkeepers, obviously concerned about business traffic. This mind-set focuses attention on Dec. 25 as if it were a day of mythological proportion. Even for the Christian who approaches Christmas with an awareness of the Word Incarnate, this secular “spirituality” can become pervasive, or at least distracting. Under the pressure, as we know well, Christmas Day itself can become a task or a burden, rather than a time of special celebration. Only so many shopping days until....
A recent conversation with some friends made me mindful that just the opposite seems to happen in the days preceding Easter. Easter – the feast of the Lord’s Resurrection from the dead – is the heart and soul of the Christian proclamation and way of life. Much more so than Christmas – yet no broadcaster announces ad nauseam that there are X number of days until Easter.
Interestingly, most Christians may know that there are 40 days of Lent. Of Lent. Usually there is no conscious connection with Easter at all. Just Lent. The conversations and inquiries between adults or with children betray the separation. “What are you going to do for Lent this year?” “What are you going to give up for Lent?” “My Lenten penance is....” No one asks, “What are you going to do to get ready for Easter?”
The secular world and its ways do not make a big hubbub over Easter – thank God! Easter is a celebration for believing Christians. (So, too, is Christmas, for that matter, but somewhere along the line we seem to have lost that one.) Just as we cry out that we must put Christ back into Christmas, we must also make the effort to put Easter (Christ) back into Lent – or, more accurately, put Lent back into Easter. The 40 days of Lent do not just mark time until Easter. Nor do they merely give us the opportunity to shop for that new hat, candy baskets and chocolate bunnies. Lent is an integral and necessary part of a healthy Christian spirituality. More than a time of concentrated sacrifices and self-righteous efforts at discipline, however, this season is a time of soul-searching preparation. Identifying what we are going to “do” for Lent can distract us both from the significance of this penitential season as well as from the reality of Christ’s promise of new and full life.
Lent must begin with its eye on Easter. It begins with the big “if.” If Jesus, the one born of Mary in Bethlehem – who so readily attracts our loving attention in December – is indeed raised from the dead, then our personal lives are changed. The purpose and destiny of human existence is given brilliant clarity. We are called to live in fullness of life with Jesus, the Risen Savior. If we accept this as true – if we believe it, open our hearts to this wonderful reality – then Easter is hardly the celebration of spring’s freshness, or mythical rabbits laying colored eggs. Easter is the hinge of time which becomes the measure of all things and touches us personally.
Somehow Christmas just happens, shopping days and all. We can all relate to a baby, born homeless and neglected. Easter does not happen so easily. Yet it holds out a promise. Each of us has begun life’s journey with our birth. Lent intensifies our walk of faith to the fulfillment of resurrection with Christ. Lent’s path leads to Easter joy – in eternity, yes, but even now, this Lent. There’s nothing to buy; no shopping days to count. There’s nothing to earn by adding up non-consumed candy bars, desserts, cigarettes or television hours. Easter is God’s ultimate gift to us.
For the believer, Lent is more a time of awareness than spiritual exercises. With Jesus, we wander a bit more consciously in the desert of temptation, where we can name the demons that distract us from the true and only source of life. Such demons are there for all of us, young and old alike. Lent then becomes a time of choice. What are we going to do about our personal Christian growth and maturation? Lenten penance is an opportunity to re-focus our mind and our life in Christ. We spend the 40 days before Easter, then, neither shopping for things, nor doing things, but pursuing and deepening a believer’s choice and commitment. Appropriate penance may well be more time spent in prayer, quiet time set aside for reflection, ears made attentive to a world that cries out against injustice and abuse.
There is nothing to buy for Easter. But there is life to gain. A different countdown begins….
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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