This is not a complaint about the weather, or winter, or February. So bear with me!
Not all months are created equal. February is not only short, but it is short on appeal. Now, in the southern hemisphere things may be different, and if you share your birthday month with George and Abe you may object, but none of the people I know wish that February could linger for just a few weeks more.
This year, the month presented precisely the face for which she is infamous, and we endured every one of her bad habits with weary familiarity. I have a new insight, though, into why this February was worse than usual: It wasn’t Lent yet.
Now how can that be a problem, you ask? Wouldn’t it be worse if it were Lent? Lent sucks the fun out of everything and imposes suffering where ordinarily there would be joy, doesn’t it? Since February has so little joy, wouldn’t Lent only make it worse?
Sed contra, I respond, Lent does not impose suffering at all. Rather, Lent does something good with the suffering that is already ours.
You see, because we are Catholic Christians, we have the amazing opportunity to transform our suffering into something powerful and positive by uniting it to the suffering of Christ. This is what your mom, or grandma, or the nuns who taught you were trying to get you to do when they said, Offer it up. When we offer our suffering to God with Christ, especially that which we accept freely or take on willingly, it contributes to the salvation of the world because it becomes part of Jesus’ saving sacrifice.
Now, that’s what we can do on our own. But when we do it together with the Church, which is the Body of Christ, everyone is yoked together in the same service by the same Holy Cross. A truly awesome power is put to work.
Lent is a time when the whole Church is united in penance freely taken on and suffering willingly accepted. This union of intention and action bears fruit in every participant far greater than his or her efforts merit. This is the grace of God at work, and the exchange of spiritual gifts that is only available within the communion of the Church.
This is the power and attraction of Lent. It takes what everyone has too much of – sadness, suffering, disappointment, and want – and turns it into something everybody needs more of: grace, mercy, and peace. But unlike so many popular projects, you cannot just “do it yourself.” You can only do it in union with the Church!
This year Easter is quite late – April 20 – so Lent begins later than we expect. I submit to you the radical consideration that we need Lent, and delaying it only makes our situation unhappier. Last year Easter was early -- March 31 – so we have gone more than eleven complete months without Lent, which is too long. Moreover, because Lent was delayed until March, we didn’t have what we needed to deal with February. And this February was a humdinger.
So by a fluke of the calendar this year, February fell five full days away from redemption: a thoroughly wretched month, squandered. But do not despair! Lent begins this week, finally, and all that horsepower will be at your disposal. You need only bring your sacrifices and your suffering, and the channels of grace will be opened and running.