by Effie Caldarola
For many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, this has been the winter of our discontent. Snowstorm upon snowstorm blanketed great swaths of the U.S. Ice brought cities in the Southern U.S. to a virtual standstill, while Canada and Alaska experienced disconcerting periods of warmth. The British Isles were hit by massive flooding.
During one particularly harsh week of subzero wind chills, I realized why they call it “the dead of winter.” I must admit my spirits lagged and I dreaded getting out to the grocery store.
Some people suffer from what’s called seasonal affective disorder and struggle to maintain their good humor in the long winter months. When the Christmas lights all dimmed, I experienced a bit of that struggle.
I think we all yearn for change this year. And so here we are, with the season of change upon us, into the heart of Lent. It’s no wonder we look ahead to Lent with something resembling giddiness. Spring and resurrection cannot be far behind.
We sense there is change in the air. There is an indication of this ancient earth rotating on its axis and there is a feeling that newness is upon us. As I write this, another round of below-normal temperatures is hitting my city. Yet, to my unbelieving eyes, I spotted a robin in the backyard yesterday. I don’t know where the poor little guy is today, but somehow I took hope from his courage.
All of this readiness for spring coincides with Lent. We know what one misguided robin knows in his heart, that the season of change is here. It is exactly the way the Christian should approach this solemn penitential season: with joy and expectation.
Sometimes we don’t think of joy and Lent at the same time. It is a period of sacrifice, of meditating on the great sacrifice and suffering of Christ, done for our benefit.
We know how the story ends. This hope is the foundation of our faith. St. Paul wrote that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain.”
Even when our spirits lag, and darkness is all around us, we remember the joy of the saving presence of Christ, the God of rebirth, the God of second chances, the God of forgiveness, the God who brings early morning light back into the winters of our lives.
Lent presents us with the gifts of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. They help us focus on needed change in our lives, and on the change for which we yearn. They help us focus on the neediness, the sinfulness, the emptiness in us, but they do so always in the spirit of joy.
When Pope Francis was asked by an interviewer to express who Pope Francis was, he replied, “I am a sinner.” But Pope Francis said this with a smile, because he believes that, like us, he is a beloved sinner.
It’s no accident that Pope Francis named his first letter to us, “The Joy of the Gospel.”
Joy is the hallmark of the Christian. Even in a time of penitence, the Christian lives with a sense of joy. Even in the darkness of winter, the Christian has faith in the rebirth of spring. Focus on change this Lent, but experience change through the lens of joy.