Lent – start writing.
As a priest, I am always being asked: “Can you give me any ideas about what to give up for Lent?”, and as with most clergy, I presume, I have always reminded questioners that giving things up is not the only way of observing Lent, but that sometimes taking extra things on is the answer. By this, one usually means things like going to one of the weekday Masses, or Stations of the Cross, or reading some of the Gospels every day.
However, these are all things that are of benefit to you, not to anyone else (though of course you will benefit others if you pray for them at Mass, for example). But the purpose of the season of Lent is to sharpen our minds and spirits to what, as Christians, we should be doing all the time, namely to love God and our neighbour. It is only (only!) forty days to give us a time to have a sprint for a few seconds during the marathon that is life.
As George Macdonald said about the miracles of Jesus, they were just the ordinary works of his Father, made small and swift that we might take them in. This is so perfectly illustrated by the changing of water into wine at Cana of Galilee: Jesus did suddenly what his Father does every year, sending the rain into the soil to water the vines which produce the grapes, which men then make into wine – a slow process, but a miracle nonetheless. As are the works of our doctors, surgeons and nurses, who over months and years bring health to the sick, which Jesus did in a moment.
So it can be with us and Lent. Whatever we do should be for the benefit of our neighbours. So, over the years I have made suggestions on ways we might use the forty days for our neighbours’ sakes. Fasting from food and drink, or abstaining from one particular kind of food or drink, is the commonest way. But it’s only any good if the money thus saved is given away to the church or a charity. This is the way of giving things up.
In the same way, taking on something extra for Lent should be for the benefit of others. And one way I once heard of, I have repeatedly advised others to try, and have tried it myself with profit. This is to write a letter (or these days perhaps an email) or a postcard to someone you may not have been in touch with for some time, or someone whom you know to be in particular troubles or problems right now. It is amazing how powerful such little tokens can be and how they can bring about great good. Of course, we may not manage all forty of them, but you will be surprised how easily forty people spring to mind and how much a little effort on our part can help them. And I predict that you may become addicted to being in touch with people, and (God bless our souls) isn’t that what a God who is addicted to love between Three Persons want us to be?
Our whole life can become a Lent, not in the sense of a gloomy time (which is the outsider’s view of Lent) but in the sense of always reaching out to others in love, first to understand what they need or are going through, and then to be with them, either near or far off, to let them know they have loving support. Lent is the early-morning gym to make us spiritually fit, but we only get fit so that we can tackle all the great things God has in store for us the rest of the day.