After a wonderful weekend with my family, I returned to Knoxville yesterday ready for to begin Lent, only to end up canceling two out of three of our Ash Wednesday Masses today because of treacherous driving conditions on the snowy, icy roads leading to Summit Hill. Of course, now as I am writing this in mid-afternoon the sun has come out! Was I wrong to cancel? Am I too overly cautious? Well, I guess there is my matter for my first lenten examination of conscience! On the other hand, the weather forecast still calls for more snow later today. So, who knows?
Of course, Ash Wednesday is important; but Lent lasts 40+ days more, after all. If this year's Lent is getting off to an awkward start, there is still time to get more completely on track. In the old liturgy, although the lenten fast and the ancient lenten Mass propers began on Ash Wednesday, the full lenten office didn't begin until the First Sunday (as, I suppose, is still the case in Milan's Ambrosian liturgy). I seem to recall at one time hearing these preliminary four days of Lent referred to as Lent's entranceway or "the porch of Lent." So, however we choose to think of it, we still have more time to get our penitential act together!
So what to do for Lent? In his lenten message for the season, Pope Francis has challenged us to tackle what he likes to call "the globalization of indifference." Usually, when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure… Our heart grows cold. As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off. Today, this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference. It is a problem which we, as Christians, need to confront.
In particular, the Pope is calling upon every Christian community to go out of itself and to be engaged in the life of the greater society of which it is a part, especially with the poor and those who are far away. The Church is missionary by her very nature; she is not self-enclosed but sent out to every nation and people.
Of course, all that is easier said than done. Going out of oneself is an inherent challenge of any Christian's calling (including obviously a vocation as a professed religious.) Paradoxically, Lent challenges each of us in our particular place and particular vocation to pay attention to putting our own house as part of that essential going out of ourselves To me, that always includes trying to examine where I am at in my life and work as a pastor, priest, and religious. (As always, as part of that, I have assigned myself some specific spiritual reading for Lent. This year, again, it is an eclectic list, that runs the gamut from the CDW's new Homiletic Directory to some sturdy old classics like Yves Congar's True and False Reform in the Church and The Spiritual Doctrine of Father Louis Lallemant of the Company of Jesus.)
Lent started as a time to learn to love God and the Church. It still is.