We began so well, didn’t we? Ash Wednesday saw us brimming with zeal and lots of good ideas about how to make this Lent the best ever, then we got up this morning after an indifferent night’s sleep, with a bit of a headache from yesterday’s fast, and found our fervour flagging. Who said what, when and to whom suddenly becomes another urgent question about the Trump administration’s alleged ties to Russia; the latest report about policing in Britain adds to feelings of insecurity; while the prospect of stalemate in the Northern Ireland elections or the collapse of any credible conservative alternative in the forthcoming French presidential elections makes the media (and possibly us, too) more than usually gloomy. How can we concentrate on the things of heaven when the things of earth have such a large claim on us?
The simple answer is, we aren’t meant to abandon all our earthly concerns but to integrate them into our search for God. We are body-soul-spirit, and it is both natural and necessary that we should concern ourselves with the world in which we live. ‘All or nothing’ is easy to do; ours is the much harder task of striking a balance. If we don’t feel fervent, that is excellent: we are less likely to kid ourselves we are being ‘spiritual’ when really all we are being is selfish or narcissistic. It is when our fervour flags that the real work of Lent begins. For that is when we look at our Lenten programme with clear eyes and start to question what we are doing and why, and how it may bring us closer to God.
If, this morning, you are less confident than you were yesterday, less sure about getting through the forty days of Lent without some major failures, rejoice and give thanks. You have already begun to receive the grace of humility without which none of us can make any progress. Your Lenten journey has begun in earnest.