It's that time of year when the evenings are getting a stretch and the mornings brightening before 8.00am. Already my front garden is sprouting a few daffodils and the signs that winter is loosening its grip are all around us. We suddenly become aware at this time of year of the need for a tidy up, for some spring cleaning, the kind of deep clean that tackles the grime we've somehow become blind to but is nonetheless all too real. The excesses of Christmas are long behind us and we find ourselves in the run up to the great Christian festivals of Holy Week and Easter.
Lent is an opportunity and an invitation to all of us to do some spring cleaning of the Spirit in order to arrive at Holy Week and Easter in a state of readiness, readiness to embrace the wondrous feast of Resurrection and new life achieved by Christ Jesus for all of us.
One of my favourite analogies for Lent is that of pruning. Every good gardener knows how essential pruning is for new growth to happen. There is an art in pruning, it's not just a question of hacking away willy-nilly. The good gardener knows just where and how to wield the pruning shears in a manner that will maximise the possibility of new shoots and facilitate real renewal. Sometimes the pruning process needs to be radical, lots of old wood needs removing and its results can look dramatically stark leaving us wondering if new growth can really happen at all. When that new growth makes its appearance, our misgivings disappear with the realisation that we have done the right thing.
Traditionally Lent is a time of self-pruning, a time to take a long and close look at how we stand before the standards of the Gospel and to take steps in cutting away the dross of our lives to facilitate personal renewal and new growth. Lent requires some honest self-evaluation, a willingness to shine the light of the gospel into the recesses of our lives to expose the bits we sometimes prefer to keep out of sight; a kind of stock taking to see what is there of real value in us and what needs radical action to bring about change.
The scriptures offer us three major weapons for our spiritual development Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving and all three involve us in a movement beyond the self. Prayer invites us to focus on God and his primacy in our lives, taking the spotlight off ourselves, a willingness to allow God to be God. Fasting invites us to some form of self-denial a willingness to acknowledge that happiness is never found in mere self-indulgence, a testimony to the Scriptural precept that 'man does not live on bread alone'. Almsgiving challenges us to focus on the needs of others especially those materially poor and who struggle to make ends meet. Sacrificial giving makes a loud statement of our willingness to take seriously our responsibilities towards our brothers and sisters in need.
So enjoy next Tuesday's pancakes but recognise too the opportunity that the season that follows is offering, a time of grace of growth and renewal.
St. Mary's Lucan