Wednesday 17 March 2021

Nearly there

We are now past the half-way point of Lent. In two weeks and a day, we will begin the Sacred Triduum. And in less than three weeks, it will all be over: Lent, Passiontide and Holy Week. Lent probably won’t be something we think about again for the rest of the year.

The thought of Lent approaching always seems like such a gloomy prospect in the days and weeks leading up to it, as we make a mental list of things we could give up, and end up ruling each one out as too essential to our happiness and ability to function as a normal human being. Ash Wednesday can feel like a tough 24 hours, much tougher than it actually is. (‘Last meat for 36 hours,’ Fr Jerome would always say on the evening of Shrove Tuesday.) But once we get going, not only is Lent not as bad as we expected, but it also goes surprisingly quickly. And that’s not even assuming that we’ve all kept our Lenten resolutions perfectly. Even if we have failed at times, the times we did successfully say ‘no’ to ourselves show us that penance is something we are all capable of, and that it isn’t so bad for us after all.

It must be a consequence of our fallen human nature that we all suffer from a certain inertia when it comes to doing what’s good for us. Even when it comes to doing those things that we want to do and enjoy doing, sometimes it takes an extraordinary mental effort to stop ourselves procrastinating and to get us going — what the spiritual writers sometimes call ‘doing violence’ to ourselves.

A year ago, a national lockdown was something that some expected, others wanted and many dreaded. The thought of giving up social contact for (what we expected to be) two or three weeks seemed unimaginable. If we can find any good in the past year, it has shown us that we are much more resilient than we thought, much as Lent does on a smaller scale. We haven’t always found adapting to the new conditions easy, and at times may have found ourselves put off prayer, our good habits and our good works. But the fact that we are still aiming for that perfection God calls us to, however far off it may seem, or however slowly we seem to be limping towards it, we are nonetheless heading in the right direction. There is no need to get dragged backwards by the times that we have failed. That we have succeeded at all in the past year is something to thank God for.

Lent will soon be over. So too, we pray, will the global pandemic and all the restrictions on our day to day lives that come with it. With the end of the race in sight, it becomes just that little bit easier to summon up the willpower to make that sprint to the finish line. So with Easter not far away — and life after lockdown too — ‘let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.’ (Hebrews 12:1)

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