The journey of Lent
Many centuries ago, when the missionaries crossed the waters from the European continent and came to what is now Great Britain, it was a pagan island. A story is told that there was great opposition to the preaching of the missionaries, so much , in fact, that in places they were rounded up, & imprisoned. What is now Great Britain was then only a collection of small kingdoms. In one of those kingdoms a group of counselors was called to the court of the king to advise him what to do with the missionaries. They argued long and loud, most urging that they be put to death. Finally, a very old patriarch rose and addressed the assembly with these words:
“Gentlemen, often of a winter night we gather in this hall for meetings of importance. From time to time, as we debate, a bird, attracted by the light within, will fly through an open window, circle a moment, then fly away to be seen no more. We not know where he came from, why he was here or where he has gone.
Life is like that. We appear on the scene for a short time for a place we do not know. We tarry for a few years, then we again disappear to an unknown destination.
The men we have arrested propose to know the answer to these three basic questions of life: where did we come from, why are we here and where are we going. I propose that if they can give us the answers, we strike their chains, invite them to the banquet hall and treat them with honor.”
During so much of our lives, you and I, are preoccupied with matters that involve only the next 24 hours. We seem to have neither the time nor the inclination to look past the immediate problems and give thought to the larger questions of life. Lent is a time when we are invited to reflect more deeply than usual on those three questions, which, when you come down to it, are the really the only questions in this life that have any lasting significance.
First of all, where did I come from , or to put it another way, who made me? Who is the one who made me? What is that person like?
Secondly, why did he make me? Why am I here? Not just why are we here but why am I personally here? why out of the millions of possible human beings that God could have I created, why was I created? Have I got a role to fill in the world? Have I filled it? Have I at least to do it?
Finally, where am I going when I die? Am I ready for that journey?
“We own a vintage wine cellar, but we never drink from it,” said the medieval theologian/spiritual writer called Meister Eckhart, “We have an inner fountain that spreads up into eternal life, but we are so out of touch with it that we only look to other wells for water,”
We humans possess something very valuable, but we are out of touch with the treasure that we already have. Why? Perhaps, because we tend to focus on only a few dimensions of our existence and miss that which really matters. At any given moment we are tempted to equate our identity with a physical quality, a mental attribute, a social role, a significant experience or a personality trait. But we miss something. We miss that which we have which is the most significant aspect of our existence.
The thing that we miss is that we are also a spiritual reality. Each one of us. At the level of our deepest being, our deepest selves, we are sons and daughters of the Most High. We children of the Living God. We have the capacity to bring his image to the world. We are the Light of the World and the Salt of the Earth. We can have a vital interior life that is capable of giving meaning to every situation, every aspect of our lives.
This interior life is very subtle, though. We often miss it. We continually make the mistake of identifying ourselves with our body, or mind or our social position. But the fullness of whom we are is infinitely more than any of this.
St. Paul says that we hold a treasure in earthen vessels. …Sadly, we are often more aware of the vessels than we are of the treasure.
The journey with the Lord during Lent is a journey to find the Jerusalem, the holy city. Sometimes we forget what Lent is really all about. We do things like say extra prayers or fast or give up something or other or seek forgiveness for our sins, and these are good things to do. It is all wonderful, but we have to remember why we do these things. If we forget that we can become like some monks I’ve known, who do all the outward acts of Lent perfectly but at the same time are treating their fellow men scandalously.
We deny ourselves and nourish our spiritual lives so we can find our true meaning & purpose. We each have the capability of making the Lord present in the world. God can and will use each of us to lighten the world around us if we just allow His image within us to become evident first to ourselves and then to others. The journey of Lent is a journey within. It is a journey of developing the intimate life of the Lord we received at our baptism.