In just a few short weeks, we will mark the start of spring. As the days continue to grow warmer and longer, our thoughts will turn to getting gardens cleaned up and ready for planting, lawns will be raked and readied for their first spring haircut, and grills will be cleaned and prepared for the cookouts that will follow. As a child growing up in my parents' home, there was another ritual that accompanied the approach of the first day of spring: spring cleaning in the house.
After the long days of winter, the arrival of spring marked the opportunity to open up the windows, and get down to the serious work of cleaning up the inside of the house after a long winter. Curtains were taken down and washed, the linens used for winter were exchanged for the those of spring and summer, the wood floors would be polished until they gleamed, the garage was opened up and thoroughly swept clean, and the windows would get their spring washing, inside and out. Spring cleaning was a big deal when I was a kid, and my brother and I would both be expected to lend a hand, helping mom and dad to get the house ready for the warmer months ahead.
This issue of FAITH should be arriving very close to March 1, which is Ash Wednesday for 2017. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Church's journey through Lent, a time when we can all ask for the gift of God's grace and engage in some Lenten housekeeping in preparation for the great feast of Easter.
As Lent begins, we are encouraged to make more time to pray. For some, this may require cleaning out a special spot for prayer in the place where we live. Making a special space for prayer – marking it with a candle, a Bible, a rosary, a religious image or statue – is an outward way of preparing for an inward transformation. A comfortable and prayerful space for Lent might mean that the same space will continue to be used as a place for daily prayer throughout the year to follow. Making daily effort to spend time in prayerful conversation with God is a fundamental way to make sure our spiritual house is in order.
Fasting is another powerful Lenten opportunity. In asking for God's grace to assist us in mastering our physical appetites, we have the opportunity to once again clearly understand the difference between what we think we want and what we truly need. Fasting challenges us to make use of that which we thought we wanted in order to benefit those around us. As St. Teresa of Calcutta reminds us, we can live simply so that others might simply live.
Giving alms – the regular practice of charity – encourages us to clean up our relationships with others. We can become easily mired in our own selfish desires. Lent encourages us to shift our gaze from the needs of self to focus more intently on the needs of others. This kind of charity is not just about our checkbooks. It is also about our hearts and our hands. Is there an elderly neighbor who could use a little assistance with weekly grocery shopping or spring chores? Is there someone we know who has been going through a challenging time who could benefit from a visit or a shared meal? Is there someone we have not spoken with in some time who would love a card, a call or a visit?
Lent is here and spring will follow soon. As Lent arrives, we have the opportunity to get some spring cleaning done in our physical and our spiritual homes. These days of Lent are a good opportunity to open ourselves more fully to God's grace, so that we can be truly prepared for the Easter spring which is ahead. And so our journey in FAITH continues.