If you were French, the word “Lent” would mean “slow.” So, the season of Lent would somehow mean a season of slowing down or even a “go slow.” Slowing down in what sense, though? Might it mean cutting back on prayer, going slow on going to Mass? Not likely! Rather, it would mean slowing down as best we can the hectic rhythm of our life, slowing down on the many activities and commitments which, though legitimate, are inclined to give us less time and energy for simply being quiet, being still, being calmly in the presence of the Lord and even being more present to ourselves. Lent lends itself to deeper interiority, to an awareness of who we are and of who God really is. It leads to deep inner peace and rest, and to the joy of knowing more fully that we are loved by God.
If you spoke Old English or Old Dutch, you would use the word “Lent” to mean “the season of spring.” It is the time when the days “lengthen.” Spring is the season of hope, of new life, of the return of the light and (however slowly!) of the heat of the sun. In Lent, then, we let go of the things which cause cold and darkness and sadness in our lives, as individuals and as community. We ask the Lord to expel them from us, to purify us of them so that we can look upon the warmth and light of his eternal love shown to us in his death and resurrection. With reference to Lent as coming from “lengthen”, we spend more time in his presence, we prolong our prayer, not so much with more words as with more stillness and expectation before him. Giving him more time gives him more opportunity to expel the more stubborn resistances we have. It gives him more time to work, like the skilled divine surgeon he is, on our open hearts.
Whether it be French or Old English or Old Dutch that we speak, the true language of Lent is the language of Divine Love. We need to learn and relearn that language, its vocabulary (deeds of love) and its grammar (the ways or logic of love). We learn it by listening and imitating. For it is not we who own the language of Divine Love, but only the Father. He speaks its words in and through his Son; he formulates its grammar in and through his Spirit. As we listen, the Father himself gives us the voice we need to respond. He forms its words on our tongue. He imprints its concepts on our mind and heart. He reforms what we have deformed so that we can be conformed to the Son in the Spirit.
So, Lent is a time for love. All our “no’s” to this or that; all our penances, great or small; all our resolutions of whatever reach; all our almsgiving; all our efforts to pray, to accept suffering for his sake: all of it is only of any use if it embeds more deeply within us the eternal love of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Naturally, it is not we who do that embedding, but only He. We, as it were, plough the hard soil of our hearts through our Lenten observances, but it is He who sows deeply in our more fertile soil the seeds of eternal love, eternal truth and eternal life.
Begin Lent gradually, lest by promising the Lord too much too quickly you fall flat on your face. Increase gradually what you are sacrificing so that you can build on the strength growing within you. No weight-lifter will start by lifting 100kg! A little at a time is better – provided you don’t get stuck there! Ask the Spirit for wisdom and fortitude, wisdom to know what to choose and fortitude to give a little more day by day. Keep asking for the grace to do what you do and the grace to do it always in love and for love’s sake.
Finally, keep your eye on the goal: to celebrate Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter with a deep sense of personal union and communion with Jesus. His desire is only to renew and cleanse your deepest heart with the grace of his Cross and Resurrection. Like the spring flowers which blossom, he wants the divine potential hidden in your humanity to unfold, to breathe forth the perfume of grace.