I love the season of Lent. It is the perfect time to get one’s life in order. It is the perfect season to reflect upon our relationship with God in an even deeper way than usual. We have many disciplines to help us, especially the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. To be clear, it is important that we pray at all times and in all seasons, not just in Lent. Likewise, it is good for us to fast and habitually practice small mortifications, small penances, small acts of loving reparation, throughout our lives even outside of Lent (and outside of Fridays throughout the year). And, it’s never a bad time to give alms; “now” is always the perfect time. But in Lent, the Church lays a special emphasis on these practices to help us through our desert journey. In Lent, we travel with Jesus (and with all of the saints who have gone before us) into the wilderness, toward the joy which Easter brings.
“Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.”
Pope John Paul II wrote those words almost 31 years ago, yet they still resonate with us today. But why? Why does love make the world go ‘round? Why do we sacrifice so much for even a glimmer of it? Why do we sell everything once we have found it? Why are we hard-wired for love?
It is not fear or lack of meaning that opens us out toward these ‘why’ questions. Love itself brings us to these questions, to this wonderment over our existence, what we are here for. It is only where “love is missing…[that] the question of meaning lacks the air it needs to catch fire.” Indeed, “the experience of love is the birthplace of wonder, the first step along a new journey toward the fullness of meaning…Wonder can be born only in the matrix of love. Even the amazement that fills us when we behold the marvels of creation makes sense only in light of the experience of love” (Called to Love).
When God the Father sent His Son into the world He sent Jesus forth with a plan. Yet, Jesus does not deal with us as a builder deals with blueprints, bricks and mortar. Rather, He deals with us personally and calls us to cooperate with Him and to relate to Him personally. So it is that Jesus came into the world through the personal fiat, the personal ‘yes’ of one woman.
May is the month where we celebrate Mary and her ‘yes’ in the life of Jesus. We celebrate the Annunciation to Mary by the Angel Gabriel on March 25th, so it is that in May the life of Jesus was beginning to flower in her womb. Why is it though that Catholic and Orthodox Christians accord her such a high place in the life of faith?
We can of course, never understand Mary without reference to Jesus. When the Father sent His Son into the world with a plan, it was a plan formed long ago. It was a plan that developed from covenants with Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David. God was building a family from a holy couple, to a family, to a tribe, to a nation, and lastly to a kingdom with David. And it was from this final expansion of the family with David that we pick up with Jesus, who was the Son of David. So it was that the kingdom that Jesus preached was made concrete in its fulfillment of the kingdom given to David.
The Christmas Witch has always been very dear to me. Doubly blest, she would visit me twice during each Christmas season: once at home to fill my shoes, and once by way of a friend. One of my best friends in high school was Lucia Travaglini, and after the Christmas Mass on January 6th, we’d walk home observing all the dolls on the windowsills. After spying to find the witch’s broom, Lucy and I would eventually exchange gifts left for the other by La Befana, the giver of gifts. The Christmas Witch never forgot me nor failed to bring just the right present. So you can imagine my surprise and sadness freshman year of college at Miami University, when my new friends had never heard of La Befana.