This is a Lent like no other, and a time of uncertainty and fear for many of us. But it is also a time of hope, of learning new ways of being and connecting with our families, friends, neighbours, strangers, and with our God. It is a time of recognizing what may have been dysfunctional in our lives and our society, and taking the opportunity to heal what has been broken.
When we began this season of Lent four weeks ago, we heard the usual reminders that this yearly season of repentance and preparation was to be a time to stop and examine our lives – to reflect on what we needed to ‘let die’ so that we might be further transformed into the people God has called us to be. On Ash Wednesday we were called to participate in forty days of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving to achieve this. I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot like this guy:
Joking aside, fasting is supposed to be a discipline that allows us to recognize the many blessings in our lives, and to help us differentiate between what is important, and what is superfluous, to our baptismal call. Hopefully, in these days where we often do not have a choice but to fast from so many things we are used to having and participating in, we can see the opportunities for gratitude, and for re-examining our priorities.
The second Lenten practice we are called to do more frequently leading up to Easter is prayer. For some, quarantine or self-isolation may be providing more opportunities for personal or family prayer. For others, there may be fewer opportunities to find extra ‘quiet’ time with an increased demand on family commitments or challenges of working from home. Some of us may be finding it incredibly difficult to not be able to gather at Church with our faith communities for Sunday Eucharist, or devotions such as Stations of the Cross. Thankfully, many pastors and parish communities are finding ways to connect virtually through video live streaming Mass on Sundays (Here’s the link to St. Raphael’s Parish YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-SZ1hV-IsbiJ7bWpxFEjCw), prayer groups being held via Zoom, or digital Stations of the Cross ( https://bustedhalo.com/video/virtual-stations-of-the-cross ). Liturgical Press is offering many resources, especially for Holy Week: https://offers.litpress.org/coronavirus-response-to-customers
Whatever our personal or family situation during this pandemic, it is important to recognize the power of prayer in a time of uncertainty and anxiety and to carve out the time that works best for our new schedules. Prayer gives us the opportunity to bring our fears and anxieties before God, to rest in the presence of the Divine, and to unite ourselves with others who are praying for healing, strength, and an end to the spread of this virus.
The third Lenten practice is alms giving. Our annual 40 Acts of Generosity campaign that we hold each year at Assumption has taught us that no matter our financial situation, there are many ways in which we can be generous – with our talents, our time, our smiles, and our presence. Our current circumstances may force us to think outside of the box, but I have seen some wonderful examples of people reaching out during these challenging times – sharing ideas and resources, taking the time to write supportive and encouraging messages to neighbours, offering to pick up or deliver necessities to people self-isolating in their homes, photographers doing front step family portraits to raise money for local charities, and mental health professionals offering their services to health care workers for free. Of course, if we are fortunate enough to be able to be financially generous at this time, our faith calls us to do so (remember the parable of the rich man and Lazarus!). Food banks, shelters, and many organizations that assist the most vulnerable members of our communities are facing an increase in the number of people seeking their services, and their resources are being stretched further than usual. Please consider making a monetary donation if you are able to! And don’t forget that although you may not be able to attending mass at Church each week, our parishes still have staff who need to be paid, so please do keep up your weekly offering (most parishes have direct deposit or e-transfer set ups) if you are in a financial position to do so.
These are challenging times, but God is with us, calling us to reach out to one another with care, charity, and generous support.
We used the song below during our Ash Wednesday service this year, and it is a beautiful reminder that God will take our brokenness, our challenges, our problems, and our fears, and transform them into something new and wonderful. After all, that is what the story of Easter is all about.