Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Reflection on Lent

Written by Sister Kristine Anne Harpenau, Prioress

Today we begin the Season of Lent, the liturgical season that is typically thought of as the “penitential” season of the Church year: the season of fasting and abstinence! And there is truth in this image of Lent! However, there is another image that I have of Lent: an image of Lent as the liturgical season of “inner growth.” I have a feeling that it is no accident that the Church has deliberately located Lent and Easter during the late winter and early spring -- during the time when farmers begin their preparation for spring planting.

Typically throughout the season of Lent, we see the farmers out in the fields on their tractors. . . plowing and preparing the fields to receive the seeds that soon will be planted. These seeds will sprout and grow over the next few months and eventually produce an abundant harvest---when the time is “right”! In some ways, this is what we Christians are called to during the season of Lent: we are called to prepare our hearts, to prepare the ground of our inner being and trust that the “seeds” we plant with our Lenten resolutions will break open, sprout and grow and over time will produce the fruits we long for.

Perhaps this is why the Church encourages us to “make” Lenten resolutions! However, the purpose is not just to “give up” something or to be penitential! Rather, the Church recognizes that it is helpful for all of us to stop periodically and assess our life, our behaviors and attitudes and figure out how we need and desire to grow. Our Lenten resolutions are a means to support the growth we long for. Our resolutions are NOT the end!!!

Think about the Lenten resolutions you have made and ask yourself: What is the growth YOU desire this Lent? How do you hope you will be different when Easter morning comes? We ALL need “practices” or “resolutions” that nurture the growth, the pattern of new life within us! Hopefully our Lenten resolutions are practices designed to support the growth and the new life we desire. Yet, for any seed to produce fruit, first of all, that seed has to be broken open!

In the same way, for US to grow usually something within us needs to be broken open! That’s one of the reasons we have Lenten resolutions! Our Lenten resolutions are not just something to do because it is Lent and because the Church asks us to make resolutions! Rather, these resolutions are meant to “break open” our hearts in a deeper way to God’s love, presence and action---so that new life can emerge.

Ask yourself:
What needs to be broken open in me?
Where is my heart hardened? Where is my heart fearful? Or guarded?
What do I hope that my Lenten resolutions will break open up in me?
What is the life I hope will be mine on Easter?

This “breaking open” of our hearts is what are Lenten resolutions are meant to do! Our Lenten resolutions are practices that hopefully will nurture new life and growth within us. They are not something to “do” because it is Lent and because it is what I’m “supposed to do.” If my Lenten resolutions have no real connection to my life, if they have no real inner meaning, on Easter Sunday I will NOT be any different than I am today!

It might help to think of the process of Lent as “a slow greening” of our hearts… just as the coming of spring is a “slow greening” of the earth. This is the way most growth and change takes place---slowly---a little bit at a time… but eventually producing new and often abundant life! However, desiring new life usually means we have to “die” a bit also: die to old habits, die to old patterns that undermine our health and happiness and inner freedom.

As we enter into Lent, perhaps we can let nature be our guide and mentor. Let us be attentive the coming of spring all around us. Let us be mindful of the slow greening of the earth that we soon will begin to see! Let us trust that as we strive “to keep” our Lenten resolutions, there will be a “slow greening” within us, a growth that is going on deep in our hearts. . .that will bring us into new life!

Let us pray for one another during this season of Lent! Let us pray that God will slowly “green” our hearts and gift us with new and abundant life! Let us trust and hope that we CAN AND WILL be a new creation on Easter morning! And finally as Saint Benedict says: Let us “look forward to Easter with joy and spiritual longing.”

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