Lent and the Great Jubilee: A Contradiction?

Fr. Charles Mangan

From the Mar 2000 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Here’s a novel idea for a more joyful commemoration of our Great Jubilee: Do away with Lent this year. There’s no reason during 2000 to pray, fast, and give alms during the six weeks before Easter Sunday in atonement for our sins. The Jubilee is all about Christ risen and alive 2,000 years after His history-changing birth. Lent doesn’t fit this year-let’s get right to Easter.

Such a fresh proposal initially may seem attractive. After all, the Jubilee demands rejoicing because we happily and fervently recall that silent night on which the God-Man came forth from His Mother’s chaste womb.

But one can’t really dispense with Lent. “These 40 days” are to Easter what the baseball is to the bat, the teacher is to the classroom, the bird is to the sky, and the ever-virgin Mary is to Christmas. The way of the cross must precede the empty tomb. There can be no other way.

The rightful rigors of Lent aren’t meant to hinder our joy-whether during the Great Jubilee or some other time-but rather to enhance it. To travel along the path to Calvary with the now-grown Babe of Bethlehem is to prepare for the untold glory of our own resurrection. Our prayerful penance and charity united to the suffering Christ will one day give way to complete and unending bliss with Him in paradise.

Why do prayer, self-denial, and service to the needy sometimes seem to go with a general attitude of sadness and even despair? Must Christian asceticism be an exercise in sorrow?

Perhaps our Lenten practices have been misrepresented throughout the centuries as “lifeless” and “drab.” Those who follow Jesus and His Church, according to this assessment, are mere “doomers and gloomers” who despise joy, preferring instead to make themselves-and others-miserable by their pitiful stab at prayer, mortification, and good works.

This isn’t the Lenten posture which the Church, emboldened by the Holy Spirit, commands of her children. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving cut off from the authentic joy discovered in the risen Lord are unworthy of their names. We engage in these spiritual activities precisely because our cherished Master died and rose from the grave, and presently anticipates our homecoming in heaven. We wish, through our grace-inspired efforts, to celebrate the living Christ who desires that we embrace His death and Resurrection, both of which are indispensable components of the arduous pilgrimage which leads to everlasting life.

The crucified and risen Jesus Himself bids us to pray, refrain from legitimate pleasures, and give to those who lack. Once we acknowledge and respond to the triumphant Jesus who conquered sin and death, then we will experience that inner, abiding joy-regardless of our heavy and persistent burdens-which only can be enjoyed in the One who has rendered Satan absolutely powerless over those who know, love, and serve God.

Real joy springs from patiently and obediently accepting suffering as a precious gift from the hand of almighty God. Consider Mary, the Mother of the long-awaited Messiah. Her heroic cooperation in her Son’s redeeming act atop Calvary reverberates even still. She, the Mother of Sorrows, freely participated in our necessary reconciliation with the Father. We may go so far as to assert that the Sorrowful Madonna joyfully yielded to all
that Christ asked of her as she stood below His bloodstained Cross.

This seems like a blatant contradiction! The Sorrowful Mother joyfully offered her guiltless Son to His Beloved Father?

Yes! When the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Our Lady at the Annunciation, Mary consented to the mysterious, life-bestowing plan of God. She pronounced her
“let it be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38) to all that would follow- the manger, the wedding feast, the hill. Surely, the Mother standing on Calvary suffered the overwhelming grief under which any mother or father labors upon the death of his or her child. But Mary was filled with an unmistakable peace and receptivity to what the Almighty allowed, which couldn’t be erased by the deafening sound of the ungrateful jeers of the onlookers
or the stirring vision of her Son’s incomparable agony.

Jesus and Mary are the examples of loving surrender to the Father. On Calvary, the inviolate Mother’s spirit continued to rejoice in God her Savior as it had at Nazareth (cf. Lk. 1:47). What she did with Christ on the first Good Friday was to present herself without reserve to the Father. She gladly contributed her significant and irreplaceable part to the sacrifice of Jesus.

The late Fr. William G. Most, in his valuable volume entitled Vatican II-Marian Council (Athione, Ireland: St. Paul Publications, 1972), quoted Pope John XXIII (1958-63) who, on September 13, 1959, in a radio address to the 16th Eucharistic Congress of Italy, expressed his deepest hope that the Italian faithful would find “in her [Mary] the most perfect model of union with Jesus, our Head . . . [and] will join Mary in the offering of the Divine victim. . . .”

Pope John captured an essential truth of the faith: As Mary offered her Son to the Father, so we, too, offer Christ to the Father by our cheerful acceptance of all that God permits in our lives. The Mother’s offering on Calvary begs for our sincere imitation. We are to become “presenters” of the victim to the Father. We unite ourselves to Christ and His redemptive suffering.

The sacrifice of Christ becomes our own sacrifice because of our proximity to Jesus and our submission to the inscrutable divine plan. He is not only our Savior but also our Brother. We treasure the opportunity to join ourselves to our oldest Brother and His sacrifice. We want to offer our entire lives just as He offered-and continues to offer-Himself to the First Person of the Most Blessed Trinity in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

We confess how difficult it is to present ourselves totally to God given our undue attachments, selfishness, and inclination to sin. Our Lenten prayers, fasting, and almsgiving strengthen our resistance to all that is repulsive to our human nature and thus are crucial in the quest for Christian sanctity. By our cooperation with God’s grace in these Lenten works, we become better prepared to make the sacrifice of ourselves that the Lord mandates.

The eternal Father invites us to follow the lead of His Son and that of the pure, Jewish maiden by giving ourselves entirely to Him. The prayer, penance, and charity of Lent are meant for the praise and honor of God, the salvation of souls- including our own-and our gradual conversion to a life in which we more consciously offer ourselves to our Creator with hearts brimming with joy and gratitude.

Our joyful sacrifice of ourselves to the Lord demonstrates our already existing bond with Jesus and His Mother and our hope of sharing in permanent, celestial joy.

Fr. Charles Mangan, a priest from the Diocese of Sioux Falls, SD, is currently studying Mariology in Rome.

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