Lent should be a “little death” for us

By Donal Anthony Foley –

We will be celebrating for the first time, on Tuesday, February 20, the feast of Saints Jacinta and Francisco Marto. This is an important milestone for the Fatima movement and message as a whole, and for the World Apostolate of Fatima in particular. In the future, this feast will quite often fall in Lent, as it does this year, and this is an interesting point, given the quite penitential lives the little shepherds lived during and after the apparitions.

The immediate focus for Catholics now is the fact that this is the First Sunday of Lent, and that we are in for the long haul as far as Lent goes. We have just experienced Ash Wednesday, which was preceded by Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. To be shriven was in medieval times, to confess your sins, while Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday”, is a name indicating the time of celebration before the rigors of Lent began.

The fact that we were marked on the forehead with ashes last Wednesday is significant given that ashes were, in the Old Testament, a recognized sign of repentance and sorrow for one’s sins. The ashes are also symbolic of death, that one day our bodies will return to the dust from which we were created. In that sense, Lent as a time of mortification is a “little death,” which should make us think of the inevitability of the real thing.

The word mortification comes from the Latin word, mors, which means death. So the mortification of Lent is a little death we undergo in order to share in Christ’s passion and death. It’s not a positive thing in itself, but meant to prepare us for Easter and the celebration of the Resurrection, just as the mortifications the children of Fatima undertook were not an end in themselves, but rather a means of becoming more closely united with God and Our lady.

People most readily think of fasting when mortification is mentioned, and this is the message we got from the Collect of the Ash Wednesday Mass: “Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.” Traditionally, fasting is a large part of Lenten penance, and as in the case of Francisco and Jacinta, it is a powerful means of getting closer to God. This Collect also mentions “spiritual evils”, that is, the devil and all his works, which reminds us that Lent is also about the perennial spiritual struggle we have to undergo with all manner of temptations, in addition to exercising “self-restraint.” Indeed, the text speaks in terms of this being a campaign, a battle, for which we need to be armed with weapons – so we really are entering a time of spiritual combat.

Now as we turn to the First Sunday of Lent, the first two readings come from the book of Genesis and the first Letter of Saint Peter. The first reading is concerned with the covenant God made with Noah after the flood, when He promised never again to destroy life on earth by means of a deluge. (Gn 9:11) In the second reading, St. Peter also speaks of the flood, stating that at the time of Noah, only a few persons, “eight in all, were saved through water” (1 Pt 3:20).

He goes on to say, “This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God” (1 Pt 3:21-22).

The Gospel reading from St. Mark (Mk 1:12-15) is quite short. The first describes how the Spirit “drove” Jesus out into the wilderness for forty days, where he faced hunger, thirst and temptation by Satan. The second part describes how Jesus then went into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel, saying, “The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.”

That is really the essence of what Lent is all about – our need to repent, to turn away from our easy-going attitude towards the faith, and really believe that Christ came to bring us the “Good News” of eternal salvation.

That is exactly what the children of Fatima did after they saw Our Lady in 1917. They turned away from childish concerns and earnestly set about becoming saints – and they did this partly through mortification, but much more by listening to what the Blessed Virgin said to them and then putting it into practice, so as to grow prodigiously in the love of God. So the mortifications they performed cleared the ground, as it were, so that God’s grace could really bear fruit in their hearts.

We may not be able to imitate them in the severe penances they undertook this Lent – and that wouldn’t be advisable anyway – but we can surely make some sacrifices, so as to allow God’s grace to work in our hearts, too.

Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, including Marian Apparitions, the Bible, and the Modern World, and maintains a related web site at www.theotokos.org.uk. He has also written two time-travel/adventure books for young people – details can be found at: http://glaston-chronicles.co.uk/




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