In the wake of 27 new inches of snowfall on the East Coast, with snowflakes still falling, Punxsutawney Phil, in a virtual event held at Gobbler’s Knob Park in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, surrounded by cutouts of fans, on February 2, predicted six more weeks of winter. Try to pack more information than the above into a single sentence. Of course, Phil is a groundhog, right! This was Phil’s announcement: “We have passed the darkness of night but now see hope and morning’s bright light. But now when I turn to see, there’s a perfect shadow cast of me. Six more weeks of winter, there will be!” Club President, Tom Lundy, added this message of hope as our country nears the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the coronavirus: “I want to tell you Phil has also told us after winter, you’re looking forward to one of the most beautiful and brightest springs you’ve ever seen.”
Whether or not you trust Phil’s annual prediction, we can be certain that the Holy Season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is this Wednesday, February 17. We know that Lent is intimately linked to springtime in our Northern Hemisphere. As the days lengthen, we observe Lent. Lent and lengthen sound a bit alike as they are both related to the same Old English word that means to lengthen. In the clerkofoxford.blogspot, the poet Maximus I is quoted:
Frost must freeze, fire burn up wood,
the earth grow, ice form bridges,
water wear a covering, wondrously locking up
shoots in the earth. One alone shall unbind
the frost’s fretters: God most mighty.
Winter shall turn; good weather come again,
summer bright and hot.
The blogger goes on to state, “Spring is a liberation, a loosening of the chains, everything is free again, and the waters run.”
I would say, “Lent is a liberation, a loosening of the chains, everything is free again, and the waters of our baptism run again .”
Lent is truly a graceful time for Christians when we turn our lives back into the direction of the Lord. We lose our way at times. The detours in the desert can be twisting, maddening, and heartbreaking. But the Lord, so gracious and merciful, is always on the lookout for our turning around and making our way back into His Loving Arms. The Lord’s Arms are always wide open.
Our gestures of repentance, our turnings-around, are marked by increased longing for the Lord (prayer), acts of self-denial (fasting), and works of charity (almsgiving.) These are our training exercises as we look forward to a new spring. We have grown rusty and have to practice again these ancient disciplines that Jesus presents to us in the Gospel of Matthew.
We sometimes forget that we belong to the Lord; that without the Lord, we are nothing. Ultimately, we are dust and ashes yet so much more. We fool ourselves into thinking that we are in control; that we know what’s best for us. We are too accustomed to the deadly vices of pride, greed, anger, lust, and laziness. These afflictions or poisons make little room for the Lord. Together we need to fight against them and to lean into the divine, lively attributes of humility, generosity, forgiveness, chastity/charity, and zeal.
Join with me on our Lenten journey. May our Desert Detours be transformed into Garden Gladness. I don’t know whether or not Groundhog Phil is right about his winter predictions. But I know that the first day of Spring is Saturday, March 20, and that Easter Sunday is April 4.
Happy Ash Wednesday and Happy Lent!
Father Bill +