The shadows of Lent

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | February 12, 2015

Have you seen the headlines?

  • Japanese journalist beheaded by ISIS (Jan. 31).
  • Jordanian pilot burned alive, also by ISIS (Feb. 2).
  • At least 31 killed in a Taiwanese airplane crash, caught on video for everyone to see the final moments (Feb. 4).
  • An SUV strikes a train, causing six deaths and countless injuries (Feb. 3).
  • In Cameroon, Boko Haram murders more than 100 people and injures another 500 in the border town of Fotokol (Feb. 3).

It goes on. In January, Islamic militants killed 10 people at a French magazine. A few days later, four more people were killed at a Jewish grocery in Paris. As this paper goes to press, the Obama administration is considering sending “lethal aid” to Ukraine as its situation with Russia escalates. Cyber attacks continue — from North Korea’s hacking of Sony in November to this month’s breach of a major health insurance company.

One might say that the world is in the midst of Lent.

For Christians, Lent is a time of darkness, sorrow and hushed tones. The shadow of death looms as we wait in ashes, fasting and prayer. In the Lenten readings, we hear of darkness:

  • Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the first Sunday of Lent’s Gospel;
  • the heart-reading command of God that Abraham sacrifice his only son, Isaac, in the first reading of Lent’s second Sunday;
  • the need to cleanse the Temple in John’s Gospel for the third Sunday of Lent;
  • the destruction of Jerusalem and the start of the Babylonian Exile on the fourth Sunday of Lent.

Even Jesus says “I am troubled now” as he contemplates “the hour” of his own death in the Gospel for the fifth Sunday of Lent.

And we all know what happens from Palm Sunday to Holy Saturday.

Lent and Holy Week bring us up against the darkness of life. They make us pause and reflect upon our frailties and weaknesses — and, yes, upon our sins. Lent reminds us of our need to be saved.

In the world around us, we see the dire consequences of these same human frailties and failures. However, Lent is not only about darkness and sorrow.

On the Second Sunday of Lent, the Gospel reveals the promise of eternity in the glory of the Transfiguration. On the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Jesus assures Nicodemus that the Son of Man will “be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” And Palm Sunday begins with a joyful procession that leads Jesus into the holy city.

The light and promise of Easter are always there, every day of Lent. Light always overcomes darkness. It may be hard to remember that when each new, horrific news story breaks and raises that fear-filled question: “Could I be in the next headline?”

The shadows of life are as stark as Lent’s shadows. But Lent’s shadows serve to point us toward eternal light. Life’s shadows do the same. We need to remember what Pope Francis said in a 2014 Epiphany homily when he spoke of the wayfaring Magi and the “vital importance” of keeping the faith. “We must press on further, beyond the darkness, beyond the voices that raise alarm, beyond worldliness, … We must press on towards … the Sun from on high, the King of the universe. By the example of the Magi, with our little lights, may we seek the Light and keep the faith. “

That’s what Lent is all about: keeping our little lights of faith burning as we move through life’s shadows toward Easter’s eternal glory.

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