I’m off the coffee for Lent. I thought I would be struggling. Usually half way through the morning I feel that I simply need to get a cup of coffee. It turns out…I don’t! Now perhaps by the end of Lent I will be walking past coffee shops simply to get a whiff of the wonderful bean but for now, I’m grand. It has been interesting to realise the difference between what I need and what I just want.
I think Lent is about that sense of stripping life back, thinking about what matters most, what we actually need.
Lent began this year on St Valentine’s Day and I think there is something very meaningful about that. I remember reading that morning about St Valentine in Robert Ellsberg’s book All Saints. Valentine had little to do with hearts and flowers and boxes of chocolates. He was actually a priest who ministered to martyrs during the persecution under Emperor Claudius II. Arrested eventually himself, he refused to renounce his faith and so faced the same death as those he had ministered to. So, our Lenten journey this year begins with a witness to faith and to love in action.
That image of Lent as a journey of love has stayed with me. Many of the scripture readings echo that theme. This Sunday we are told in the second reading that “God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy” (Eph 2:4) and later in the same reading “we are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it.” (Eph 2:10).
What a wonderful image! In the Gospel Jesus tells Nicodemus “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son”– a gift of love to draw us back into a relationship of love.
To say that Lent is a journey of love is to grasp the challenge and complexity of love. For all the marketing that is done I think we all have the wisdom to know that love is not easy. I was at a meeting a few weeks ago where we looked at the first session of the ‘Amoris Let’s Talk Family, Let’s Be Family’ programme in preparation for the World Meeting of Families.
We watched the first video clip of people talking about their experience of family and were then asked to reflect and share our own understanding of family. It began with statements about family being where we all love each other, where we share everything, where we are there for each other.
Then I think we delved deeper and became more real perhaps. We acknowledged that family can be hard work. We spoke of how hurts and rows in family life can cut very deeply because we consider family to be so important. We spoke of the challenge to continue to reach out, to forgive, to seek healing. In short, we spoke of that journey of love which Pope Francis recognises so clearly.
There was a realisation that love contains within itself the reality of the paschal mystery. Valentine knew it. Jesus knew it. In family life we know it. Love costs.
We need to be open about that. When we talk to our children about love and marriage and family life we need to be realistic. We need to tell them that there will be times of struggle and frustration and heart break. We also need to tell them that it is worth all of that.
Perhaps it is fitting then that on this fourth Sunday of Lent we are celebrating Mother’s Day. We thank God for those women in our lives whose gentle, generous, courageous and constant love has enabled us to become who we are. We are people of the Incarnation – love made real in word and action, in a mother’s love, in a Lenten journey.