“Remember thou are but dust and onto dust you will return.” With these words, and the marking of our foreheads with black dust, from old palms, we embark on a journey of 40 days in preparation for Easter, our annual Lenten pilgrimage. The exuberance of Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday, suggests a final fling with fun and friends, a cleaning out from the cupboards of all the things we like, before turning heart and mind in the direction of fasting, almsgiving and deeply prayerful contemplation.
Another phrase that launches Lent is “Repent and believe in the Good News.” Hearing these words might trigger a response of heart and mind, facing up to our individual wobbles, the shady part of our lives, where pursuit of self-interest and personal benefits outweigh our desire to live life in a way that expresses our love of God and the guidance of His Word. There is no doubt that Lent is good for our spiritual lives, our faith and our church. The coming weeks will afford us many different ways to listen and learn, to appraise our faith commitment and ask where we are going as a parish community. There will be opportunity to share, to look out for the poor and needy and Trocaire will introduce us to an aspect of life in the developing world and ask for our support.
Last Shrove Tuesday I gathered with friends for a pancake flipping feast, at a table laden with chocolate spread, ice-cream and fruity toppings. We stuffed ourselves with sweet treats, tears ran down our cheeks as we laughed and shared stories. We got up from the table promising to gather again on Easter Sunday, but COVID changed our plans. One of those who sat with us that evening, a young teacher, Eamonn, has been 31 days now on a ventilator, struggling for his life, and we have prayed and prayed and prayed for his recovery. Just in the last couple of days hopeful signs are emerging. We dare to hope. We would so like to have that Easter meal with him, not an empty chair at his place.
So, this year we will all live a virtual Lent, no ashes, no gathering to set out on the journey as a community. From our homes we can try and join the daily Mass, find a prayer companion, take on a spiritual challenge, look out for friend and neighbour. Dare to hope. Grow in faith. Please pray for Eamonn and all who are very ill.