Forty Days of Joy–Preparing for Lent

Author: Allegra Mutanda

Forty Days of Joy–Preparing for Lent

Lent is the joyful privilege we have, as Christians, to slow down and reflect, says Allegra Mutanda.

For many of us, the word ‘Lent’ can equate to journey, penance, hardship, struggle, fast, suffering. I have even heard the words hungry, punishment and impossible!

What comes to mind for you? Did the word ‘joy’ feature on your list? Several years ago, I was listening to a talk where the speaker was describing the season we are about to enter into as ‘the joyful season of Lent’! I was struck by that word, ‘joyful’. What is joyful about sacrifice and penance? One of the things I will be giving up this Lent is real coffee and I started grieving that ‘loss’ several days ago - please don’t judge me!

And yet, I agree, we are about to enter into the JOYFUL season of Lent. Lent is the joyful privilege we have, as Christians, to slow down and reflect. To pray and go deeper into the Lord. To let go and let God. To seek mercy and forgiveness. To be merciful and forgiving to others. It is a time to be honest and take a good look at ourselves, like taking a spiritual temperature check. It is a time for ‘metanoia’, that change of heart/direction towards God, a turning back to Him. It is a time to look at the cross and face it without adverting our eyes; to embrace it. Lent is a time of growth and preparation. But preparation for what?

In the book of Deuteronomy, we hear of God training us ‘as a man trains his child’ (8: 5). Another version of text uses the word ‘discipline’ from which disciple is taken from. They both mean ‘learner’ or ‘pupil.’ What was God training them for in the desert? What is God training us for, today?

Training, Disciplining and Purification

I like to think that, in the desert, God was training His people for the promise of the Promised Land- a land of streams and rivers, of wheat and barley, of oil and honey. A land of plentiful where they would lack for nothing (cf. Deut. 8: 8-10). Isn’t that heaven? This was for the people of Israel-but what about us today? What could God be training and disciplining us for, if not still that Promised Land…heaven? In readiness to behold Him in all His beauty and glory and majesty. How? Through training and stages of purification: humility, hunger, testing, prayer, penance. But also, love, faith, trust, surrender and obedience.  

This journey of Lent is an essential one in the life of each believer. The difficulties and the hardships we experience in life help prepare us for that ultimate promise just as Lent prepares us and leads us to Calvary and, from Calvary (and the cross), to the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ on that third day.

Very often, as Christians, we would rather skip the cross and head straight for resurrection day. Pas si vite, mes amis[1]. There are no shortcuts in this Christian life! In his encyclical, the Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis tells us that faith always remains something of a cross (42). As followers and disciples of Christ, we are encouraged to walk the way of the cross; through the wilderness to Calvary and then to glorious resurrection. And because we are not immune to the desert and the cross, we can choose to face it (with joy), live it (in surrender), embrace it (in obedience) and let it transform us (in holiness). St John of the Cross said: ‘Whoever does not seek the cross of Christ does not seek the glory of Christ’.

In St Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, we read, ‘We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair’ (4: 8). The cross is not to be seen as an affliction but rather as that place where, like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, we can say to the Father ‘Not my will but Yours’ (Lk 22: 42).

Learning From The Cross

Every moment with Jesus is a teachable moment if we pay attention so, here is one. A few years ago, I joined Student Cross, an Easter walking pilgrimage to Walsingham. The group I was part of was the Essex Leg of the pilgrimage (125 miles to Walsingham, carrying a 25 pound cross). On the first day, the cross seemed quite light; this was going to be easy. Yet, as the days progressed, the cross seemed to be getting heavier. I got to the stage where I didn’t mind the walking as long as I didn’t have to look at or carry the cross-that cross had become a symbol of pain and hardship for me.

But then I found solace in two places: in the people around me who would walk alongside me when it was my turn to carry the cross, silently supporting and encouraging me. But I also found that, when I leant into the cross and rested upon it, it became much easier to carry. By day seven, Good Friday, as we arrived in Walsingham, I was aching everywhere whilst at the same time, being full of joy for what we had accomplished. On Easter Saturday, we decorated our crosses with flowers in anticipation for Easter Sunday; the cross transformed from that stark wood to something beautiful with flowers all around it: death into life.

The letter of James speaks of a life of blessedness for the man who remains steadfast in adversity (1: 12). This is the joy that comes from persevering even in trials, trusting the One in whom ‘all manner of things shall be well’ (cf. Julian of Norwich).

Opportunities For Trust, Surrender and Continuous Joy

So, as we enter this season, I would like to encourage us not to forget the bigger picture even in times of struggle. Remember why you are doing this and the journey the Lord is taking you on. These forty days will provide several opportunities for trust, for surrender, for continuous joy. Embrace the cross; lean into it and let its presence remind you of the love that God has for each one of us, a love so great that He was willing to die on a cross so that we might be made righteous.

Our diocese [Portsmouth] is living a Year of the Holy Spirit, which in my parish, we started at Advent. To live out the year, Bishop Philip Egan invited each faithful to cultivate six holy habits to help us grow in holiness. Here is my own list of holy habits I would like to encourage us to adopt this Lent:

  • Daily prayer
  • Frequent time spent before the Blessed Sacrament (adoration)
  • Scripture reading and spiritual reading (maybe a devotional, life of a Saint, book on prayer, etc.)
  • Prayerful reflection of the Stations of the Cross
  • Some corporal work of mercy
  • Reception of the Sacraments including the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Of course, let yourself be guided by the Holy spirit and listen to His promptings. And may this Lenten season bring us abundant joy as we align more closely to our Lord and Saviour.

[1] Not so fast my friends.

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