YOU will be getting this newsletter on or around 1 March, which this year is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the calendar of the Christian churches. For Christians the season of Lent, lasting from now until Easter on 16 April, is traditionally a time for fasting, abstinence and more concentrated giving to charity, along with trying to improve our spiritual lives and making an effort to look at where our lives are going. In some ways Lent resembles the Jewish fast leading up to Yom Kippur and the Muslim fast of Ramadan. There is a big emphasis on seeking forgiveness for our sins, and one symbol of this is the ceremony on Ash Wednesday itself when worshippers have their heads marked with some ash, a traditional sign of repentance: the picture here shows Pope Francis having his head marked with ash.
Even if we’re not religious it is possible to see the value of a time of the year when we can ‘change gear’. Being able to do most things or get most things whenever we want means that we can easily lose any real sense of different seasons or periods in the year; also the idea of giving some time to reflection about our lives can strike many chords – in counseling or therapy many people seek to explore this without any religious element. Not only that: the Lent tradition of cutting down a bit on what we eat or drink is rather similar to the efforts many make to do these things for health reasons or out of care for the environment. Moreover, as we see every year before Christmas, many people in our country, of all faith backgrounds or none, give very generously to charity.
This last aspect of Lent is addressed by Pope Francis in the special message he has issued for Lent this year (he does one every year – you can read it here from www.vatican.va). In it he reflects on Jesus’ parable in the gospel of Luke of the Rich Man and Lazarus (chapter 16, verses 19-31). As you may know Jesus tells a story of how a poor man, named Lazarus, languishes outside the house of a rich man who feasts inside his house without helping out the poor man outside. They both then die and their positions are Reversed – the poor man is in heaven, the rich man in torment. The pope writes:
‘The parable then shows that the rich man’s greed makes him vain. His personality finds expression in appearances, in showing others what he can do. But his appearance masks an interior emptiness His life is a prisoner to outward appearances, to the most superficial and fleeting aspects of existence. The lowest rung of this moral degradation is pride. The rich man dresses like a king and acts like a god, forgetting that he is merely mortal. For those corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their own ego. Those around them do not come into their line of sight. The result of attachment to money is a sort of blindness. The rich man does not see the poor man who is starving, hurting, lying at his door.’
There is something here in the pope’s words for all of us – and many people in the world who need help and compassion: for all of us Lent can be a time to grow, to try and become better people.
Fr Ashley Beck
Editor and Assistant Priest