To use a musical metaphor, Christmas and Easter are celebrated in the chorus of Lent. Saint John Henry Newman notes that all of these seasons celebrate “two great sacraments”. For him, Jesus’ birth makes us appreciate our baptismal call to be missionary disciples who recognize that “to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often.” Saint John Henry was very familiar with the Carol O little Town of Bethlehem which invites Christ “to cast out our sin and enter in-be born in us today.” Newman taught that Lent offers an opportunity to grow in this desire- as we respond to the spiritual themes of conversion, reconciliation and adoration. We
are challenged to become living Gospels through prayer, penance, holy communion and the gift of our time, talent and treasure, to those in need.
Saint John Henry believed that the Easter light of Christ’s risen presence, in every Mass, shines through us to those we meet – if we are willing to faithfully reflect its rays through goodness:
The more numerous are our acts of charity, self-denial, forbearance, of course, the more
will our minds be schooled into a charitable, self-denying temper. The more frequent our
prayers, the more humble, patient and religious are our daily deeds, this communion
with God, these holy works, will be the means of making our hearts holy, and of
preparing us for the future presence of God. Outward acts done on principle, create
inward habits. I repeat, the separate acts of obedience to the will of God, good works as
they are called, are of service to us gradually severing us from the world of sense, and
impressing our hearts with a heavenly character. (Parochial and Plain Sermons I, I).
Saint John Henry is insightful in his approach to Lent. Penances must be carried out in a spirit of love – rather than a gloomy face and complaining look. He advises us to set challenging, but achievable, targets. If we fail to do this, we will become downhearted and, eventually, be led into the temptation of giving up on our chosen aims to honour Christ at this time of year. As Newman says:
It is by going on quietly and steadily, with the thought of Him in our mind’s eye, that by
little and little we shall gain something of the warmth, light, life and love. We shall not
perceive ourselves changing. It will be like the unfolding of the leaves in spring. You do
not see them grow; you cannot, by watching, detect it…so it is with our souls; not indeed
every morning, but at certain periods we are able to see that we are more alive and
religious than we were, though during the interval we were not conscious that we are
advancing. (Parochial and Plain Sermons VI, 4).
Let us ask Saint John Henry Newman to pray with, and for us, this Lent and Easter. May we grow in the grace of what it means to live like Jesus each day.