February 26, 2023
“Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
‘Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight.’
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”
“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.”
Leading into Ash Wednesday and our yearly observance or Lent, a time of purification, penance, and preparation through the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we had our Family Retreat (40 Days,40 Ways: A New Look at Lent) at St. Pats for three nights with Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio (Dr. Italy, for short). On the first night, he shared the origin of the name of this season in English and two images that stuck with me. Lent is an Anglo-Saxon word for spring, the time when each day light is growing in our world. In most of the world, Lent is referred to as something like “The Forty.” Only in English does it have this connotation of springtime. It is appropriate as this season of growing light leads to new life. For us, it is the growing light of purification, penance, and preparation that leads to the celebration of Easter, resurrection, and new life.
In some sense, the two images were related to word association with Spring. The first was spring cleaning. In the past, most homes were heated by wood or coal and buttoned up tightly for the winter. In the lack of ventilation, soot would build up. So, when the weather was warm enough, windows were opened to let in fresh air and a thorough cleaning was done of all the accumulated winter dirt. Lent is an annual spring cleaning for our souls. We open up our hearts, let in the Holy Spirit, and purify our lives, cleaning out our accumulated sins. It is a season of repentance.
The second was spring training. During the off season, most baseball players do what we all do: eat too much at Thanksgiving, at numerous Christmas parties, at our family celebrations of Christmas, for New Year’s and, maybe, for Valentine’s Day. They need to get their game back and they start with fundamentals: throwing, running, and batting. Their goal, however, isn’t just to get back to where they were, but to get better this year than last year. Lent, likewise, is an annual spring training for our souls. We, too, start with the fundamentals of praying, fasting, and almsgiving. It is about our relationship with God, our hunger for God, and our reflection of God in mercy and generosity. We don’t just want to get back to where we were, but to take a step forward in the life of faith. As Dr. Italy said, “God wants us to be champions.” If you weren’t able to be at the Family Retreat, I encourage you to watch it on the YouTube channel. In any case, I challenge you to consider how this Lent will be your spring cleaning and spring training. What step will you take in faith?