It's hard to believe. Tuesday of Holy Week already. Where has all the time gone? Where has Lent gone?
This time of the year, I almost always feel like I've somehow "wasted" my Lent, not given it the attention it deserves. But perhaps that's not so bad - if I could fix my sinful nature in the span of 40 days, then I would be lying to myself. So perhaps Holy Week is a chance to acknowledge the good and the bad alike, to give thanks for the grace of conversion, and to beg for more grace as a sinner in need of Mercy.
But that's not the point of my thoughts today. One of the "Goods" this Lent was a thought I had a few weeks back regarding fasting, penances, and Sunday.
For those of you unaware, Sundays are not actually a part of Lent. They are Sundays in Lent, not Sundays of Lent. And I can prove it.
The Lenten season spans Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, inclusive. So Ash Wednesday through the Saturday before the First Sunday in Lent is 4 days, and we get another 7 days each for the following 6 weeks (Sundays 1-5 plus Palm Sunday). That makes 46 days, but Lent is the "Quadragesima" - the 40 days. We can play around with starting a little later or ending a little earlier, but really all we need to do is remove the 6 Sundays from our count, and we get 40.
But why does this matter?
Here's the thing. Catholicism is very much a "fake it till you make it" religion. She is a Church filled with imperfectly practicing, imperfectly faithful, imperfect people who are constantly disposing themselves to Grace. She is a Church which acknowledges the "dry spots" and "dark nights" that every faith life undergoes, and even rejoices in these times as a sign of the Love of God, calling us into deeper relationship with him beyond the "Lollipops" we so often run after, a relationship found at the foot of the Cross.
The Christian life is one of continual conversion, continual growth, developing the habits, habituses, and virtues of the Life of Christ. Along the way, the Church offers many tangible aids to this growth, one of which is Feasting in the midst of Fasting.
Let me put it this way. Suppose you really like waking up to a cup of Earl Grey Tea. This is a good thing, and would require ludicrous stretches to find a way to sin by waking up with a cup of Earl Grey Tea. Giving up your morning cuppa is a good penance, because sacrificing a good for the Glory of God is a way to unite yourself to the Cross.
Now here's the thing. Suppose that you know what I know, that Sunday is a Feast Day, and that it is worse to fast on a Feast than to feast on a Fast, and so - without breaking your communion fast - you wake up with your steaming cup of black tea suffused with bergamot oil. How much more will you look forward to Sunday because of this simple cup of tea? Upon reflection, will you not realize that as much as you long for this cup of tea, you should long for Our Lord, and that your desire for the tea can teach you how to desire Our Lord?
Suppose further you've maintained your penance throughout Lent, and you now are in Holy Week, staring down not merely the reprieve of one day, but indeed the relaxation of penance entirely, so that each day is begun with that cup of Earl Grey? Does this not train us to long for heaven, where "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away"? Does not the removal of our Lenten Penances engender in us a desire for the resurrection?
So this Sunday, this First Day, this Easter Sunday which is our Highest and Holiest celebration day, Feast. Feast for the Joy that is in your heart, Feast for the Glory of the Lord. Within every ephemeral good, see the image of the Summum Bonum, God Himself, who gives us all good things.
This, I think, is one of the many ways Lent is a season of preparation - it prepares us to see in every good thing which is immediate to our senses the one who surpasses our senses. We are trained through desire for sensible goods to desire the insensible Good which is veiled in the form of bread and wine, whose resurrection we celebrate, preparing ourselves in Joyful Hope for our own resurrection.
Have a blessed Holy Week, and a Glorious Easter!