As we journey through Lent, our thoughts and hearts turn most frequently—and appropriately—to acts of penance and remembrance, daily reminders of the great mystery of faith: that Christ died, has risen, and will come again in glory.
But have you ever thought about Lent as a time for thanksgiving?
Neither had I, frankly. But I have the great privilege of working with Sr. Kathryn Hermes, who has introduced me to the works and thoughts of the Fathers of the Eastern Orthodox churches, and reading them gives westerners like myself a slightly different perspective—a different slant, if you will—on the Christian life.
This past week I’ve been reading the Letters of St. Macarius of Optina, a Russian monk and priest who lived in the early nineteenth century; he was a confessor and spiritual director to many throughout his life. He writes,
“Special services, special foods, continence, not going to dances and events, all this awakes one to piety and reflection on our present purpose, on the past and on eternity. Seeing in ourselves a falling away from the commandments of God, we try to reconcile ourselves to God through repentance and communion of the most pure and life-giving Mysteries of Christ, which burn the thorns of our sins. You, when you have not fulfilled this duty during the year, of course will fulfill it during the Fast. The most merciful Lord loved us so much, that He gave us, through food and drink, His most pure Body and life-giving Blood, as a token of life eternal and the incorrupt future feast. Let us offer Him thanksgiving with pure hearts, lips and acts!”
That passage took me aback, as I’d never seen Lent in quite that light. We do special things in Lent to deepen our relationship with God.
But just think about it: how happy would we make our Lord if we wanted, craved that same relationship all year long, day in and day out?
The great liturgical scholar Aidan Kavanagh, OSB, used to say that we get things backward: that Sundays are not, in fact, a “small Easter,” but that Easter is a “tremendous Sunday,” because we enact the death and resurrection of Christ at every Mass: it is Sunday that is the normative celebration. In the same way, then, perhaps we can see Lent as a tremendous preparation for the central tenet of our faith, and our weekly devotions throughout the year as the normative preparation for that celebration. A once-popular song said, “Everybody’s working for the weekend,” meaning that everyone is anxious for time off to play. What if all our weeks were spent “working for Sunday”? What if we could take our “normal” weeks with the same seriousness we accord to Lent, keep our hearts and minds fastened on the miracle of Sunday?
And that’s where the thanksgiving comes in.
During this season of repentance and preparation, God’s giving us a lens through which to see our life and our faith. He’s giving us the opportunity to realize that our entire lives could be spent in repentance and preparation—perhaps not in the same practices and disciplines we embrace in Lent, but certainly in other ways.
In the midst of this season, giving thanks is wholly appropriate… and may even make the rest of what we do richer, more intimate, and ultimately more fulfilling.
by Jeannette de Beauvoir