Friday, February 23, 2024

The consolations of Februarsophy

(With apologies to Boethius) or, a Rhapsody in Bleak

The snowdrop is a modest flower,
blooming low to ground, and casting down its gaze

If ever there were a month that elicits yearning for consolation, it would be February, the month that wears both crowns: shortest, chronologically; and longest, experientially.  One of my favorite comic strips yesterday had its two high-school-boy lead characters grappling with this very burden.  Is this the 39th or 46th of the month? asked Pierce; February, you’re killing me! groaned Jeremy.  

February can seem to go on forever, as we tire of winter and yearn for spring.  The days grow longer, but the cold gets stronger, a friend’s mother said.  This leap year, we have even one more day of it – though not a 39th, much less a 46th.

And yet.   There are signs throughout the bleak month that God’s mercies are not spent, and it is precisely the bleak backdrop that makes them stand out for us to observe, and marvel.  Sunrise and sunset times are not abstractions for daily Mass-goers; already now, there is light in the sky before the 6:30 Mass, and it is still bright after the 5:00 ends.  Like a freight train beginning to move, the lengthening of days began imperceptibly back in midwinter, but now picks up speed to an encouraging pace, as we added fifteen minutes of daylight at both ends of the day just in the first two week of the month.  Soon enough, it will be barreling through the equinox.

Sundry bulbs send up their shoots in response to the sun, though the chill make us disbelieve they know what they are doing.  The tug-of-war between light and cold shows by the rectory doorstep, where the hyacinths emerge crazy early, nurtured by the sun-warmed bricks on the south-facing front wall; yet the Lenten rose (hellebore), burgeoning and blooming right on time, is flattened by an overnight freeze. 

Father Novajosky rejoices to be able to begin his daily walks earlier and earlier, bundling up at first and warming as he goes.   February sun brings welcome brightness without the withering wrath of summertime; barren woods reveal their stark structure.  The still-low sun sends its now stronger light to raise sharp contrast, that even bare bark reveal its beauty.  The sunlit call of open fields and hilltop vistas is an invitation to relish and delight, not a lure to immolation for all who dare leave the protection of shade. 

Ash Wednesday this year clove the month in two; but annually and more digestibly, two great days divide it into thirds, the gift of two great men; the births of Lincoln and Washington reminding us both of what we have received as a nation, and of what we are capable.  The 12th and 22nd are still always on my mental calendar, heedless of the printed ones, as I find more fruit in remembering them than just generic “presidents.”   And speaking of the 22nd, even when Lent starts this early, the liturgical calendar gives us the Chair of Peter to celebrate, unshakeable greatness that Christ built up precisely where He was thrice denied.

Snowdrops cling to the anonymity of the crowd, springing up
not in isolated splendor, but rather huddling together
in random and irregular patches.

Yet a civic holiday is a welcome respite, too, and I took a page from Fr. Nova’s book to walk in some woods along a path I had never tried.  And mirabile vistu, there I found snowdrops, the earliest of early bloomers, before even the crocus come.  Though I hear it can be domesticated, it is most delightful in the wild, where it springs up in inexplicable and unexpected patches, just when you think all is dead and dry.  Vigorous and delicate at the same time, the snowdrops announce that even February need not be fatal, much as the start of Lent promises us of our sin.

In desolation, the tiniest gift is an abundance.  This is the wisdom, the delight, and the consolation to be found for all who have eyes to see, standing out against the bleak backdrop that is February.

Monsignor Smith