So often we are urged, in effect, to be miserable for Lent. Even strangers have been known to comment on the Ash Wednesday smudge and ask what is being given up for the duration!
But I regularly wish people a Happy Lent. This is a wonderful time when we can open our hearts and come closer to God and enjoy it. So often we are like Christian in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, carrying a great burden. It may be a burden of sin which needs to be confessed and forgiven – so go into the box and leave it there.
More likely, it is a burden of care or duty, even of love, which you cannot just drop because so many other people’s lives depend on you. This burden needs to be examined with great care because if it is not treated properly it blocks the way for its own relief. You cannot take time for yourself because of all the good you are doing so you must find a way to let God in.
It is true that you see Him in those whom you serve and this is a most important understanding of the nature of Christian service. Our Lord goes before us. He is there in the needs, in the pain, in the disaster. St Teresa of Calcutta has taught us this lesson, that we should see Christ in the poor and destitute.
St Teresa of Avila teaches us how important our spiritual lives are. In the town of Alba des Tormes, where she died and is buried, I began to learn about her way of renewal of the inner life and the ascent of the soul in four stages.
First, Devotion of the Heart, consists of mental prayer and contemplation. Second, Devotion of Peace, is where human will is surrendered to God. The third, Devotion of Union, and the fourth, Devotion of Ecstasy, are seen as states of absorption in God as in ecstasy.
For most of us, we are doing well if we seek to reach even the first Devotion. Pope St John Paul II said that this renewal is the way forward for the whole of creation but St Teresa herself simplified it for us.
“Contemplative prayer, in my opinion, is nothing other than a close sharing between friends. It means frequently taking time to be alone with Him whom we know loves us.”
Walk with Him for a happy Lent.
Pictured above, Bishop Alan marks an ash cross on a worshipper during an Ash Wednesday Mass.