Sunday, February 17, 2013

Best Kept Secret




One of our Sisters is a former teacher in a Catholic inner city school.  At recreation last week, she shared a few lines of a song she taught her students: 

It’s Lent!
It’s Lent!
Time to repent!

The other Sisters doubted that the song would go over well, especially with teen-agers, but she said that her kids did like it.  Moreover, they had never heard of Lent, much less anything about “repent”!

But for us Franciscans, this is our special season.  Before his spiritual sons and daughters were given an official name, St. Francis called his movement the “order of penance”, so to put on the Franciscan habit is to declare oneself a public penitent in the Church.  We are the sinners whom Christ has called to repentance.  Jesus continues to scandalize the Pharisees of this world by deigning to eat with the likes of us and to be Himself our food at the table of the Eucharist.

Franciscans are famous for their joy.  It was said by her Sisters that St. Clare was always happy in the Lord, and this in spite of a life fraught with illness and hardship.  It is one of the best kept secrets, the paradox of penance, that moderation and self discipline create the necessary conditions for an excess of joy.  We must never forget, particularly during the season of Lent, that penance is not the end, but only the means.  Neither is the Cross of Christ the goal, but rather the Resurrection.  St. Paul says, “for the sake of the joy that lay before Him, Christ endured the cross, heedless of its shame.  I wish I could shout from the housetops this wondrous truth to a jaded world glutted with self indulgence:  “Hey, you’ve got it all wrong!  Turn away from the mess which is only making you more miserable!  You’re getting nowhere fast with all that!  Clear it out!  Make space for the hope that does not disappoint, the love that never fails, the joy that lasts forever and begins even now!”  Well, at least I can do my bit by climbing onto my little cyberspace soapbox here.

If you prefer eloquence, listen to today’s preface which says it so well:

“…By abstaining forty days from earthly food, He (Jesus) consecrated through His fast the pattern of our Lenten observance, and by overturning all the snares of the ancient serpent, taught us to cast out the leaven of malice, so that, celebrating worthily the Paschal Mystery, we might pass over at last to the eternal paschal feast.”

Or again:

It’s Lent!
It’s Lent!
Time to repent!
And believe in the Good News!



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