I said that I’d talk a bit about Lent, so here it is. Perhaps it’s a little bit inappropriate to dwell on Lent during Easter, but then Lent is in many ways a microcosm of the worldly situation of the Church: we’re all waiting with expectation and (hopefully) preparing ourselves. Our lives are a sort of constant penitential season, The Empire Strikes Back of the trilogy, if you will, marked by longing (I believe Pope Benedict XVI said something similar – sans the Star Wars reference, of course). It’s that longing for the infinite, for the strange solemnities of childhood, that we can’t extinguish without becoming something less than human.
Anyway, my first Lent got off to a less than stellar start: by Ash Wednesday I had a bad cold, which, combined with the fast, made me spend most of the day being grumpy and self-pitying. I did, however, start praying some of the Liturgy of the Hours (you’ll notice I’ve added a link to Divine Office, which is an excellent source on this), which has become a bit of a fixture of my prayer life.
Now one of the things which has been impressed on me ever since my experience with the Passover Seder is the importance of ritual in these things. It is not enough for the story of the story of the Exodus just be read or listened to – we have to conjure it up and draw ourselves under it. With the sacrifice of Mass, the truth of this is taken to its highest point – the memorialisation actually does make present the very reality it signifies.
The heart of the Liturgy of the Hours is the Psalms, and one of the things that it helps with is moving God’s own inspired hymnal book from being a collection of poetry in the Bible to a place that we can inhabit. In this sense the Liturgy has been invaluable for me. Also, it helps make my morning prayers a little bit more than a groggy Our Father accompanied by a few mumblings.
Back to Lent: penances did, of course, ensue, and like on Ash Wednesday, they weren’t always handled in the best manner possible. But what happened was rather than viewing my stumbling as further occasions for kicking myself, it helped, I think, to make me be more willing to acknowledge my weaknesses. Because to be constantly condemning yourself for not meeting some halcyon standard you set is really just pride: to think that you can do it yourself, on your own, that you’re already on that level, etc. Asking for help is not something that comes easily to me, but at the end of the day we need all the help we can get.