Yes, I know it’s the middle of Lent. That’s why I’m asking, “Are you keeping Christmas alive in your heart?”
It was only a few short months ago that we packed up our glass and glitter ornaments, wound up the lights, and dragged the tree out to the curb, all the while exhorting each other to remember that Christmas isn’t a single day, or even a single season. The Christ child yearns to be born anew in our hearts every day of the year, every day of our lives! We must keep Christmas alive in our hearts all the year ’round! Remember!
So how’s that working out for you? Are you feeling festive? Feeling merry and bright?
No? Congratulations! Christmas is alive in your heart. Or at least it might be.
I say this because Christmas is a baby. Like all babies, it is winsome and delightful and kind of a lot of trouble, but we all agree it’s completely worth the effort because of all the joy it brings. But also like all babies, it stays fresh and innocent, winsome and delightful only for the shortest of times. Like all babies, it is made to grow up. But grow up into what?
Well, here we are in Lent. If you think of the liturgical year as a lifetime, the Christmas season is a very brief babyhood, just a bright little sliver on the pie chart, and the dark wedge of Lent hits right around the teen or early adult years.
Doesn’t that explain a thing or two?
If Lent is teenager-hood or early adulthood, then we, the people of Lent, are spiritually like teenagers all the world over: We feel perpetually guilty, and make some fumbling efforts to take more responsibility and do what we ought to do, but we also feel perpetually resentful of being imposed upon, and would rather just hang out and let someone else do the work for us.
Related article: Sydney launches Lenten app
We desperately need structure, but heartily resent being put on a schedule that feels so unnatural. We understand we’re supposed to be strong, courageous, responsible adults, and sometimes that idea is bracing and thrilling, but sometimes it’s overwhelming and appalling. Sometimes we rashly believe we can just do everything on our own; sometimes we collapse into childish helplessness and terror as we see the task before us.
We are, in short, a mess. And that’s exactly what I’m talking about. If we’ve truly kept Christmas alive in our hearts since December 25, then halfway through Lent, our hearts should be . . . a mess. A shambles. In ruins. Listen to the Psalms:
“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Ps 51:16-17
This is the season, halfway through Lent, when, like teenagers, we should be disgusted with our own futile efforts to save or even improve ourselves. This is the season when we should see very clearly that the world, including our fellow Catholics, will always let us down. This is the season when, after trying and probably failing to stick with even minor disciplines, we become dreadfully aware of how helpless we are, how unreliable, how foolish and petty we’re capable of behaving to our Father who loves us. This is the season when our Christmas hearts should be broken.
And this is also the season when, like teenagers, we should also know with a certainty that’s almost obnoxious that as many times as we screw up, we still have a home to come to. We should rest on a bedrock of confidence that we are utterly beloved, simply because we are who we are, and not anything we have done; and that all we have to do is ask to come home again, and there will be rejoicing.
Related article: A softer Lent of little penances
Along with the doubt and the crushed vanity, the helplessness and the fear, this outrageous, unshakeable confidence is also what Christmas looks like, once it’s had time to grow and live in our hearts.
So do you, all you Lenten people, keep the Christmas spirit alive in your hearts as you fast, pray, sacrifice, give alms . . . and fail. Rend your Christmas hearts. Let your Christmas hearts be fearful and ashamed. Let your Christmas hearts be broken. Let your Christmas hearts feel the pain of growth.
This is the season when it hurts to grow; but it is only a season. Let your Christmas hearts remember that all you have to do is ask, and you can come home again, and there will be rejoicing.