by Sr. Sheila Campbell MMM Ireland 22.02.2023
Recently I came across a definition of Lent as celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox tradition as “bright sadness”. I love this idea. It speaks to the heart of the matter. The forty days of Lent are a preparation for us to celebrate the miracle of Easter. Yes, we want to have a time to prepare, to make our lives simpler, to increase our alms-giving, but no one said we need a dreary period. That was the memory of Lent I had as a child – no sweets, no chocolate, no sausages, or meat. I grew to hate fish! It was “no” to everything.
Instead, the idea of “bright sadness” reminds us that we are sad that Jesus had to go through torture and death for us, but the brightness is that Jesus did that for us. For each one of us, for you and for me. Now, if that does not provoke immense gratitude and a wide smile, nothing else will.
So, the sadness of Lent is always tempered by the thought of the Resurrection. Death is not the end. As our liturgy for the dead reminds us, life is changed, not taken away. Each year I am challenged during Lent to begin to see the seeds of new life appearing. It happens in nature, in springtime with new branches on the trees, new buds on flowering plants. There are lambs in the fields.
But new life also happens in people. You can see it is someone recovering from an illness. I watch a young mother learn how to care for her new-born baby. I see the courage of our older MMMs, returning to their home countries after several years away and gradually taking new steps in ministry in their native lands.
This Lent we are starting with countries at war, with natural disasters and other climate extremes brought upon by our own human greed in burning fossil fuels. Our tendency to hate, to be violent, or maybe even worse, to be indifferent, is always with us. Yes, it is good to have a period of stripping, of cleansing and purification. But never let go of the idea of brightness. Christ has overcome the worst of it all in his resurrection.