by Father Mark Goldasich
Break out those party hats and noise-makers! Finalize those resolutions! Tune up those voices and get ready to belt out that traditional favorite, “Auld Lang Syne”! Yes, it’s that time once again!
Happy New Year!
No, this isn’t a recycled column. Nor have I gone totally bonkers and lost track of reality due to this issue coming out on Leap Year Day. It’s just that maybe the ancient Romans had it right. Long ago, in the times before 154 B.C. that is, the Romans celebrated the start of their ten-month year in March. And it makes a lot of sense.
March is a time of new beginnings and new growth. After all, this is the month when we can finally bid goodbye to winter and welcome spring with open arms. Given the snowy and cold past few months that we’ve had here in Kansas, I’m eager for spring and its warmer temperatures — not to mention that I’m almost out of ice melt!
This year the church calendar even coincides nicely with the civil calendar to reinforce the feelings traditionally associated with a brand-new year. For example, this weekend when the month of March begins, we’re celebrating the Fourth Sunday of Lent, known by its Latin name of “Laetare” (“Rejoice”) Sunday. The opening prayer for Mass will remind us that “we are joyful in your Word, your Son Jesus Christ.”
Why does the church call us to be joyful this weekend? Well, it’s the midpoint of Lent. We’re encouraged to hang in there with our Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, because Easter is just around the corner. That’s why the opening prayer continues with: “Let us hasten toward Easter with the eagerness of faith and love.”
Suppose, though, you’ve not had a good Lent so far. Maybe you’ve done nothing other than get ashes at the beginning of this penitential season. The message of joyful hope applies all the more. There’s still plenty of time to dust off — or create — your Lenten resolutions. After all, Lent is only half done: There’s 20 more days for positive change and growth in holiness.
The message of new life is further reinforced by the fact that spring begins on March 20, which also happens to be Holy Thursday this year. On that night when Jesus was betrayed and arrested, the forces of darkness and light — sin and salvation — appear to be of equal strength. Which will win? Which will be more powerful?
Spring reminds us through nature what we know to be true in our faith: Light will win. As daylight will gradually get longer and “defeat” the night, so too, Christ, the light of the world, will conquer the darkness of sin and death.
So, here are your “March”-ing orders: Consider this month as a time of new beginnings, new resolutions, new growth. And the first place to start is on your knees, as the following little story by Roberta Lash illustrates. She writes:
“The other day while trying my luck at ice skating, I fell — many times. Each time it seemed more difficult to get up until someone yelled, ‘Get up on your knees first.’ I tried it and it worked. Later I thought — there are so many ways in which we fall and fail; what better advice than to ‘Get on your knees first,’ then pull yourself up. This works too.” (Found in “A Treasury of Quips, Quotes & Anecdotes for Preachers and Teachers” by Anthony Castle.)
That’s excellent advice for this second half of Lent. If you, like me, have fallen and failed this Lent, don’t give up . . . on Lent or on yourself. Get up on your knees first. Happily, we don’t have to pull ourselves up alone; we’ve got God’s grace to assist us.
Since most parishes offer communal penance services in these upcoming days, why not make plans to attend? That sacrament can do wonders in our quest to be better, holier people. It will tip the balance toward the Light, helping us to leave the old, long time (“auld lang syne”) of darkness, sin, frustration and despair far behind — not just for Lent, but hopefully, for the rest of our lives.