Starting Lent

The truth is: life is messy. It is complicated and confusing, and the people who are part of it each bear their own matrix of complications. But the second truth is this: it has always been this way. From the beginning, there has been violence and tragedy, competitions and cruelty, suffering and fear. But there has also been the tenderest of loving, the most patient perseverance, authentic altruism and optimism rooted in hope. So as Lent begins, that time of reflection and conscious recall of the mirrors we can be to one another, maybe remembering what really matters needs time. So what does matter?

The readings for today do not dwell on ritual or practice or judgement. Instead, each focuses on love: God’s love for us, and love for one another, even how to love another. There is the reminder of the presence of God in each of us, the Spirit being with us. That idea intimates more: there is a sacredness in each being whether visible or not; the spark of the divine awaits discovery. There is a clear statement of the stunning duality of avoiding hate and loving your neighbor as yourself. And there is the Gospel’s call to literally “turn the other cheek”. For the first time, I began to think about Lent as a time of deepening respect for relationships and of the practical practice of leaning into love. Without pushing all the complications of life aside, there is a startling simplicity here. Lent is about noticing what is real, seeing what is holy, and embracing a deep and abiding respect for one another. And remarkably, if that is the umbrella, there is room for everyone to find shelter.

Some of us, like Bishop Rolando Alvarez of Nicaragua, confront harsh consequences in the practice of such respect and simplicity. As a critic of the government, his refusal to be exiled resulted in a 26 year prison sentence. But his choice affirms the sacred and stands in solidarity with the suffering. Others recognize the loss of Catholic culture, the failures of a generation that could not have foreseen the extensive cost of social changes which characterize society at every level. Theirs is a different call: rebuild. Discern the new path in all this: see what is real, pursue what is holy, radiate the respect for self and others that the readings invoke. For some, there is what we face and live with every day. Lent affords us the luxury, the chance to choose to be fully present, fully attentive to the persons before us and discover the presence of God in one another and ourselves. And so the umbrella widens to shelter all of us in the storms of simply being human.

Lent starts with the solemnity of ashes, that which reminds us of the fragility of human life, the ubiquitous nature of flaws and foibles, and the reality of limitations. Entering into the season, the readings remind us that we have strong and faithful companions on this journey: the Spirit of God, and one another. Maria Popova in the Marginalian notes that James Baldwin’s thought on love as mirroring one another’s goodness. Lent is like that: finding the wealth of light in the very world we live in and trusting in something far greater than self.

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