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Lent – A Journey of Encounter, Healing & Transformation

Date: 28 Feb 2017

In the film Chocolat, Vianne, a chocolate maker, arrives in a small French village and opens up a chocolate shop.  This might seem an innocuous thing to do, but her timing is unfortunate.  It is Lent.  The mayor has been vociferous in his instructions to the villagers about what they should or should not be doing during this season of penance.  Eating chocolate is most definitely not acceptable.  The villagers are pretty miserable, hiding secrets of sadness and pain.  At the same time, they are both fearful and respectful of their mayor. Through her shop and her vivacious personality, however, Vianne brings new life and joy to the villagers.  The mayor is outraged at his seeming loss of authority as one by one the people ignore his protestations, enjoy the chocolate and experience again the joy of life.

Do you like Lent?

Lent is one of those seasons that we either dread because of its apparent emphasis on self-denial and self-imposed hardship or one that we embrace with enthusiasm because it is a real opportunity to re-assess our lives and take steps to deepen our relationship with God.  To the uninitiated, especially those with no particular religious affiliation, Lent is seen as an austere time when ‘giving up’ chocolate or alcohol or some other sensuous pleasure appears to be the norm.  The village mayor in Chocolat reinforces this perception with his insistence that everyone in the village, all of whom are expected to be practising Catholics, do not break the laws of fasting.  The emphasis on ‘giving things up’ not only misses the point of Lent but can cause people to shy away from what can be a deeply enriching aesthetic practice.  In addition it can result in people forgetting the other dimensions of Lenten practice such as prayer and almsgiving.

So what is the point of Lent?  If we think of a wedding or an imminent birth, we will know that many months of preparation go into being ready for those significant occasions.  In many ways, Lent is not so different.  It is a time, lasting 40 days, when we prepare to celebrate Easter, the Resurrection of the Lord.  As is traditional in the Catholic Church, the beginning of Lent is marked by the ritual marking of ashes on our foreheads, reminding us of our earthly vulnerability.  On Ash Wednesday we are reminded through the readings at Mass of our need to reacquaint ourselves with the One who loved us into being and continues to love us.  There are many things to distract us from this core purpose of life.  Challenges and distractions can take us away from thinking about what God might be asking of us.  We can be led along paths that are not particularly life-giving but seem safe and comfortable.

Lent, it seems, is an opportunity, a period of time to reflect, to re-align ourselves spiritually so that when Easter comes we can celebrate with fresh vigour the joy of the Resurrection.