So Lent is finally upon us! Not quite as late as it could be but not far off – all to do with the calculation of the phases of the moon.
Before we look at Lent, what about the keeping of Candlemass last month? That great Feast of Light was celebrated with devotion by those who braved the cold and the snow. I use the word “devotion” because it is an aspect of the Christian life which seems to get little mention in modern Christianity and, indeed, the wider perception of Christianity. “I don’t go to church but I live a good, Christian, life.” people often tell me. “What do you do about praying?” I ask. “Well, I ask God to look after me and my family.” There is no thought that prayer may be about offering to God love and thanksgiving, worship and praise.
As some of you know, I have a thing about S. Thomas of Canterbury. He is a favourite because he is so complex. A middle-class man who rose to become Chancellor to King Henry II before being appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. As archbishop, he led a more than devout life and was much given to penance and prayer. He also championed the cause of the church and its authority within this realm of England. Clashes with his former friend, the king, led to times of exile in France before his return to Canterbury and martyrdom at the hands of the king’s knights. What I didn’t realise, before reading a new book about him, was his devotion to God throughout his life. Records reveal that he, as chancellor, would be found prostrate before the altar or crucifix in what was obviously a combination of penitence for sin and sheer love of God. Short accounts of his life seem to suggest a magical switch from a secular life to a religious one. He was a devout Christian full-stop.
My own journey to becoming an active Christian was strongly influenced by the praying of the people around me in church. Elderly people creaked to their knees in genuflection and prayer. Worship at S. Mary’s Birkenhead and, later, S. Luke’s, Tranmere, introduced me to the concept of prayer being valid for its own sake. We are put on this earth to “know God and enjoy him for ever” – which includes a life of devotion and sanctification. We may lose our way in the busyness and distraction of life, but that is our goal and it is what heaven is about.
So Candlemass was a lovely offering of worship. Meanwhile, in Burslem, all sorts of things were happening. “Light Night Stoke on Trent” was a wonderful celebration. The town centre was closed off to traffic for three nights and we were treated to flaming torches, a silver band (the players were truly lit-up), a dancing, walking, glowing figure (who got bigger and bigger) – and a number of buildings used for light projections which music played. People turned out in the freezing cold in their droves. The pubs were full and so were the streets. I went on the Friday evening and returned on the Saturday, meeting up with members of the church and people I hadn’t seen for a while. Well done, the people who were the movers and shakers – and all who provided the entertainment. It all reminded me of the celebrations at Santiago da Compostella on the eve of the Feast of S. James the Apostle. The only difference being the temperature difference -5 to +25!
Back to Lent and devotion. For a number of years we preceded masses with thirty minutes silent prayer before the silent Jesus who gives Himself to us in the Blessed Sacrament of his Body. In recent times, this has extended to an hour, not least because there was always the possibility of starting late and/or saying Morning or Evening Prayer during the time. This year I have decided to begin the prayer time with the recitation of the Rosary. If you have a set of rosary beads and have either not used them or don’t know how to, come and join in. If it doesn’t connect with your prayer life then give it another go before doing something else. Don’t let Lent pass you by. The Lent Lunches used to be very well supported – now we see only a couple of extra faces. Put time aside for God and for each other within the church family. The study course will be after mass on a Tuesday. No idea, yet, what we are going to do – which makes it all the more exciting. Then there are the LENT EXTRA magazines for sale -with spiritual exercises for you to do at home.
Have a good Lent.