The word season has many meanings, and each tells us something about what Lent can and should mean for us.
It means, first of all, one of the four seasons of the year. Lent falls during the late winter and early spring seasons. This year Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, falls on February 17. Lent ends at Holy Thursday, the beginning of the Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter). Easter, this year, is on April 4.
Everyone knows the date for Easter is different every year. If you’ve ever wondered how it is determined, here is the answer. Use it to stump your friends! Easter Sunday is the first Sunday following the first full moon that follows the spring equinox. Spring begins on March 20/21.Check your calendar for the next full moon after that date. Easter is the next Sunday. So, this year, the first full moon occurs on March 29th (Monday), and thus the next Sunday, April 4, is Easter Sunday. That rule applies every year.
But season also means “a time of year when something is best.” For example, “oyster season” refers to the months when oysters are at peak flavor and supply. And season used as a verb (“to season”) means to heighten the flavor of food by adding condiments and other spices.
All of these meanings can help us to grasp the deeper meaning of Lent. First of all, to approach Easter—the most significant feast of our faith and of the Church year—we need to prepare ourselves as we do for any major celebration or event. Anyone involved in making wedding plans knows you don’t do that over the weekend. It takes time to make sure everything is just right for this most important day.
Important Truths Can Fade
Someone might say, “Well, I believe already; I go to Mass and communion regularly, so why all the fuss?” The truth is that there is not one of us who doesn’t need to refresh ourselves, our consciousness and our awareness of what our faith means. That is true of priests and religious as well as lay people.
We need to be honest with ourselves. The simple fact is that no matter how great something is, we can take it for granted. We get used to it and it can fade in importance. Other less important things begin to take precedence. What husband and wife in their marriage have not had to ask themselves whether they are taking each other for granted? A priest who offers Mass each day can find himself losing awareness of the sacredness of the act he is offering each day. “Familiarity can breed contempt” is not just a clever saying; we know the truth of it from our experience.
Lent is a time to “season” our lives with a deeper realization of what we actually believe. Jesus, son of God, died for me. My own efforts and good work don’t save me. They are important because they make faith alive in my life, not just an abstract fact in my head. Some say, “Of course I believe, but don’t ask me to get to serious about it.” Lent is dead serious, because it is about life and eternity.
If Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, is the greatest of all our feasts, we must prepare and remind ourselves how graced and fortunate we are that we are believers. When a loved one dies, we know that the truth of the resurrection eases our tears of loss and temporary separation. Jesus’ resurrection causes us to know that we and our loved ones will be together some day with God in heaven.
Now, some of us old folks remember the many fast and abstinence days we experienced early on. Less is required now: fasting only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent. Actually, that’s pretty mild.
Voluntary acts of self-denial, beyond the minimum requirements, can also be beneficial for us. But there are many other acts we can do that can bring us a deeper awareness during the Lenten season. Could you go to Mass one day a week during Lent? Could you make a little donation to some worthy cause each week by giving up an alcoholic beverage? What about giving up smoking (which would be healthy and surely penitential) and giving the money saved to help another?
Lent is always a good time to get to confession, especially if you have been avoiding this sacrament. What about simply looking at your own temperament and asking, “In my relationships with others, have I been getting moody this past year?” What about determining to treat others at work or in the family with more kindness, considerateness and awareness of their feelings?
We are so blessed with our faith. We know the answers to the most important questions of life: Why are we here on earth? What’s my purpose and what has God called me to do? Am I doing what I know I should be doing? Lent is a perfect season to take stock of our lives and show the Lord we are grateful for the gift of faith.
Dear Friar Jack: I enjoyed your article on this familiar prayer, but had hoped you’d address the final line, “…world without end. Amen.” As a catechist for many years teaching in Catholic schools (both elementary and high school), this question came up often in my own mind and among my students. I’ve had various thoughts on this, but would be grateful for any enlightenment you can pass along. Bernadette
A: Dear Bernadette: In my judgment, the words mean something like, “forever and ever. Amen.” It seems quite possible to many of us that our “world” may someday end, but the world of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will never end, according to our faith perspective. These are my thoughts, such as they are. Friar Jack
Dear Friar Jack: I read your column faithfully, and find it enriching in many ways. Your thoughtful exploration of glory was both timely and well done, in my view. I might wish you had added a little something to the effect that glory also includes and suggests “meaning” and “significance” as well as “enlightenment” (and that is why we get expressions like “glory shone…”). Joris
A: Dear Joris: Knowing your special background as a biblical scholar and teacher of the Scriptures, I am pleased with your kind words about the column. I also appreciate your additional insights into the meaning of glory, especially the aspect of “enlightenment.” It is indeed true that, as we go through the Scriptures, we frequently see instances of God’s glory “shining” in many different ways. Many thanks, Friar Jack
Dear Friar Jack: Thanks for your reflection on the Glory Be to the Trinity prayer. I pray it nightly, and appreciate this added enrichment. We are indeed blessed! Ames
Dear Friar Jack: I never fail to be amazed how deep and creative you are. I loved your column on the Glory Be. Peace, Barbara
A: Dear Ames and Barbara: And I appreciate your supportive words regarding my reflections on the Glory Be. Let me take this occasion to once again assure you and all the readers of Friar Jack’s E-spirations that I keep you and your loved ones all around the world in the prayers I now raise to our most gracious and glorious Holy Trinity! Friar Jack