On Ash Wednesday we started the celebration of the great Season of Lent. Lent is one of my favorite liturgical seasons. That has, however not always been the case. As a child I used to dread Lent with a perfect dread. It was that time when we were told to give up things and to go to church even more often than we already did. Lent became synonymous with self-inflicted guilt which weighed on me as I inevitably failed in my valiant attempts to meet my supersized Lenten goals of abstinence and prayer. And I suspect everyone else around me felt the same as all of us looked even more dour than usual and we all know how dour northern Europeans can look.
Over the years the weight of the season has been lifted and today I experience Lent very differently. I see it as a time for renewal and recommitment rather than a time of self-inflicted pain and guilt. And granted, the great Lenten disciplines of praying, fasting and almsgiving are very much part of our Lenten experience. However, they are not the goals of Lent, rather they are the vehicles or tools for a successful celebration of Lent.
This Lent I am reclaiming Pope Francis’ call for a radical Revolution of Love and Tenderness from a few years ago. Our world, our society and we ourselves have become so hardened of heart. Hardness of hearts seems to have grown to spiritual pandemic proportions. As I see it, the only successful antidote to hardened hearts is a decent dose of love and tenderness. And this, I think should be our goal for this Lent: to allow our hearts to be softened and to invite love and tenderness to rule our lives.
When he first called for a Revolution of Love and Tenderness, Pope Francis said: “From the manger, Jesus proclaims, in a meek yet powerful way, the need for sharing with the poor as the path to a more human and fraternal world in which no one is excluded or marginalized.” Indeed, in Jesus, the Creator of the Universe showed us that the path to salvation is the path of tenderness and meekness. The very life of Jesus illustrates that this path of tenderness may lead to the cross. However, as we know, the cross of Jesus was not the end, on the contrary it was the beginning of a completely new chapter in human history, the chapter of salvation.
Some people might find fault with the term “Revolution” as they think it suggests subversive activity. Others hold that values of “Love and Tenderness” bespeak weakness and vulnerability as if these were failings rather than strengths.
The English word revolution comes from the Latin revolvere which means to role back, to turn or to change direction. Thus, revolutions are moments of great change. This change can be brought about in dramatic and violent ways or in a quiet and peaceful manner. The kind of revolution Pope Francis is calling for is the latter, a peaceful revolution albeit no less dramatic in terms of its results.
In Latin there are two words for love: amor and caritas. Amor refers to romantic love while caritas means charity. Charity too often is understood as the mere giving away of money or goods. The true meaning of Charity is much deeper than that. The true meaning of Charity is better expressed by one of the seven Greek words for love: agape. Agape is not the result of an attraction, or a feeling as is the case with eros of philia. Agape is the deliberate choice to strive for the highest good of others through concrete actions.
So, as we fast and pray and give alms this Lenten season, let’s do it with a purpose. The purpose being a radical Revolution of Love and Tenderness demonstrated by concrete actions that reveal a deliberate choice to strive for the highest good of others. That, after all is the path to salvation which we celebrate every time we gather for the Eucharist but especially during the season of Lent and Easter.
Johan van Parys
Director of Liturgy & Sacred Arts