You might be thinking that I’m getting this entire Lent thing confused with Valentine’s day. Let me assure you, that it is not so, and that at the end of this article you will find that God is a mad lover and that Lent is truly a season to love.
My memories of Lent from the time I was an altar boy eons ago, has a very gloomy and melancholy disposition. It was a period of penitence, reflection and reconciliation. There were special prayers in the church, the jesuit friars conducted weeklong retreats, the bells were replaced by wooden clappers , Holy mass was followed by stations of the cross and the entire community was submerged in a milieu of lamentation. For us youngsters, this was not a fun time. We couldn’t make merry, there won’t be any festivities and our kitchens won’t see meat or desserts for many weeks. If we could, we would have fast forwarded the time to Easter vigil.
How do we go from Lent as a portrait of lamentation to a season of love ? For many of us it is difficult to comprehend the necessity of God sending his only begotten son to die on the cross. Yet without Christ’s death and resurrection there won’t be Christianity.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” [John 3:16]
The crucifixion of Christ is the ultimate symbol of God’s love for humanity. It is perhaps the best example of irrational and illogical nature of God’s love, for which we find other abundant examples in the Gospel passages (viz. the parable of the prodigal son, parables of the lost sheep and that of the lost coin [Luke 15:1-32] ). God is definitely not a vulcan.
Scripture characterises Love as God’s defining property.
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” [1 John 4:8 ]
So while Lent is a season of reflection, reconciliation and penitence, it is also an apt time to reflect on God’s abundant love for us, to ameliorate his pain and suffering caused by our transgressions and to reciprocate his love, carry that cross and bring forth joy. Our trespasses afflict our relationship with God, who like a lover abandoned by his soul mate suffers pain and agony. Through penitence and reconciliation we mend the broken relationship, reciprocating God’s love, who now like a lover finding his true love, rejoices. Thus it’s written
“ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” [Luke 15:7].
Christ doesn’t call us to rent our garments and wear sack cloths as an act of penitence, in fact he is very explicit to criticize any visible gesture of the act.
“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, who try to look pale and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I assure you, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face.” [Mathew 6:16-17]
Christian life is also incomplete without a cross, Jesus reminds us in the Gospel passage that our calling to follow includes a cross, a burden and sacrifice.
“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” [ Luke 14:27 ]
In other words, he asks us to endure the suffering with a smile on our lips.
We can take a cue from Christ’s sacrifice to emulate in our own lives this season of lent. What gave Christ the strength to carry the cross ? it was his unbounded love for us.Though we let go of some of our indulgences as an act of penitence, we often find it hard to carry the burden. What makes a mother’s suffering from birth pangs suddenly change to burgeoning joy on seeing the face of her baby ? it’s her bountiful love for her child. In other words love is the key ingredient in taking suffering and pain away from sacrifices.
Scripture exhorts us the importance of love persistently.
“He said to him.’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. “ [ Mathew 22:37-38 ]
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” [ John 15: 12-13 ]
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”[Colossians 3:14 ]
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” [1 John 4:7 ]
“Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.”[1Peter 4:8]
Perhaps my favorite of all is St. Paul’s first epistle to Corinthians where he affirms the importance of love to a divided church community.
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.”[1 Corinthians 13:1-8a]
He then goes on to proclaim
“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”[1Corinthians 13:13]
There’s no better gift for a father to have but to see his children love their siblings.This Lent, let us reconcile with our Heavenly Father, give forth from the bottom of our hearts, love and cherish the joys of sacrifice, part take in God’s merciful and unbounded love and complete the circle. So love one another, sacrifice your indulgences with a smile as prayer offerings for people whom you love and cherish, and you will find the amazing strength to carry them all the way. Just remember to wrap it all in loads of love.
Boyzone had it just about right when they sang, “Love me for a reason, Let the reason be Love”.
Dear friends, have a blessed, loving Lenten season !
By: Joseph D’Silva