I don’t see how I could ever have been anything but a Benedictine since I’ve always instinctively seen Lent as a time of joy (cf RB 49). Unfortunately, that has led to my making some big mistakes. I tease those who regard Lent as gloomily penitential (i.e. a hardship to be endured) or complain about some aspect of life they consider ‘Lenten’ (e.g. lockdown restrictions). I should remember that many people take words at face value and do, indeed, have a negative view of what Lent is. For them, Lent is all about giving up something loved, taking on something unpleasant, and being nasty to ourselves. If that is our own view of Lent, we shall end up being nasty to everyone, not just ourselves, and our experience will be anything but fruitful!
A Joyful Beginning
Please take a look at the little boy in the photograph. He doesn’t know what lies before him any more than we know what to expect this Lent, but he is cheerful and living in the moment. His focus is not himself but something, more probably someone, beyond himself. That is the secret of Ash Wednesday joy. We are at the beginning of a journey, an experience, that will lead us to Easter and the Risen Christ. We are, as they say in the racing world, under starter’s orders. How could that be anything but joyful? Thomas Merton was of similar mind: ‘Ash Wednesday is full of joy…The source of all sorrow is the illusion that of ourselves we are anything but dust.’ Our dust isn’t negligible. It is, after all, shot through with ‘immortal diamond’ as Hopkins said; but it is given to us, a gift we receive with glad hearts. Let us receive Ash Wednesday with glad hearts, too.