Faith in the Family

Faith in the Family

Lent has begun and yet it all feels somehow out of kilter. I usually look forward to Lent, to the sense of pause, of a change in rhythm, a re-tuning of life. This year I have felt differently. I mentioned this to a friend recently and her comment was, “Sure haven’t we been living Lent for the past year!”

Her words rang true. Over the past year we have lived with a level of deprivation and self-restraint which carries strong echoes of Lenten penances. We miss the opportunity to meet with friends and family. We long to reach out to each other with hugs and kisses. A simple cup of coffee in a café with a friend feels like the stuff of dreams. But we have accepted these restrictions, lived within this confinement – not always happily, frequently with a sense of frustration and exasperation. It has not been and will not be easy.

So now, as we enter into Lent, how are you doing? When I look around, when I listen to friends or when I examine my own deeper feelings I realise that there is a great tiredness around. People are struggling more with this lockdown than any of the others. How then do we engage with Lent when life already feels stripped back, basic, functional?

I caught a little of a beautiful film the other day, called Risen, the story of a Roman Tribune sent to find out what had happened to the body of Jesus and who had stolen it away from the tomb. It is the story of his discovery of the followers of Jesus, his increasing involvement with them, his encounter with the risen Christ. Afterwards I found myself thinking of how the followers of Jesus were portrayed. What struck me was the tender care between them, the emotional exhaustion, the fragility and yet the strength of hope, the joy in hearing that two of their companions have met the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

It made me think back to times of being on retreat during Holy Week – the intensity of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the strange, quiet, gentle waiting of Holy Saturday. And so I find myself feeling that in some way this Lent we are being invited into an extended Holy Saturday. We have indeed been living the paschal mystery in so many ways over the past year  as that ever-present, just below the surface frisson of anxiety reminds us. The washing of feet has taken form in the care provided in our hospitals and homes throughout the year where people ill with Covid have been tended to with heroic gentleness. The cross has been made real in the loss of all those who have died, from Covid and from countless other causes and in the grief – complicated by social distancing and Government restrictions – of their families and friends.

So maybe this Lent is an invitation into that liminal, in-between space of Holy Saturday, a time to wait, to pray, to be present and to cultivate hope. Just as we believe that Easter joy follows the tragedy of the cross so we know that we are moving towards a liberation from this pandemic. We do not know when life will be restored to us, when we will call down casually to a neighbour and stay for a cup of tea, when we will know again the deep joy of greeting a loved one with a good hug but we believe that those days are coming. We too will have our Easter dawn.

In the meantime this Lent, let us be gentle with ourselves and with each other. Let us make time for God, sit in peace, walk in the awakening Spring, read the Gospel of the day and ponder. We are all tired, so let’s try to fast from negativity, from the sharp word, the easily taken offence. We have been reminded that we are suffering this pandemic as a global family. Let us allow the Trócaire Lenten Campaign to challenge us, to nourish our empathy and sense of solidarity, to spur us to action. Lent this year is a time for tenderness. Let us love one another.