As all Catholics know well, the three traditional Lenten disciplines are fasting, almsgiving and prayer.
My parish put out a nice brochure relating to various Lenten practices and prayer opportunities during this season. In it was something I had not before realized – that the word “lent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for springtime, “lencten.”
What happens during spring? We plant our seeds which, nourished by the sun, water and nutients in the soil, grow strong.
I like the connecting of Lent to spring because it helps us to understand the lenten practices as sources of nourishment. I think that is particularly helpful with fasting, for example, which can so easily been seen as a hardship, something we endure. If we can view the Lenten disciplines as sources of nourishment, I think we can approach them with more enthusiasm and appreciation.
I used the term Lenten “discipline” a few times here because the paragraph in my parish brochure which talked about the origins of the word Lent also contained the reminder that the term “discipline” comes from the same word as disciple. Thus, alhtough we tend to associate discipline with punishment, makign us think of it as something unpleasant, understanding the root of the term reinforces the role of these practices as things that help us to grow.
So, if we’ve been a little lax thus far during Lent, let us renew our commitment to engage in these disciplines that nourish our growth in God.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, known as Three Kings’ Day in some cultures. Most of us who set up our creches at Christmas time include figures of the three Magi bearing their gifts for the Christ Child (although I confess that whenever I unwrap my three figures and place them in the creche in my home I think of the old joke that had the three wise men been three wise women, they might have brought gifts that were actually useful for a newborn). But we miss the significance of the day if we think of it as just part of a story of something that happened a long time ago.
The word epiphany means to reveal or to make known. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the feast of the Epiphany the feast “which celebrates the manifestation to the world of the newborn Christ as Messiah, Son of God, and Savior of the world.” The heavens revealed Jesus to the world by sending forth a star. The Wise Men, the first Gentiles to acknowledge Christ’s kingship, revealed Jesus to a world beyond Bethleham.
But it didn’t end there. It is our task today is to reveal Jesus to the world. In the words of one of the blessings we receive at the end of Mass on this day,
Because you are followers of Christ,
who appeared on this day as a light shining in darkness,
may he make you a light to all your sisters and brothers.
As we continue our observance of the Octave of Christmas, my friend Gerry suggests for reflection the following lines by Thomas Merton:
The mystery of Christmas lays upon us all a debt and an obligation
to the rest of mankind and to the whole created universe. We who
have seen the light of Christ are obliged, by the greatness of the
grace that has been given us, to make known the presence of the
Savior to the ends of the earth. This we will do not by preaching the
glad tidings of His coming, but above all by revealing Him in our
lives. Christ is born to us today, in order that He may appear to the
whole world through us.
Christmas Day is behind us (at least until next year), but our task of making known the presence of Christ continues, not only during this Christmas Octave, but every day of the year. And so we need to continually reflect on the question: What am I doing to reveal Christ in my life?