Our Global Great Lent

Elissa Bjeletich | 16 March 2020

What an interesting Great Lent we have this year! Just as Clean Monday arrived, COVID-19 became an international news story, a global concern. As we move deeper into the Lenten season, we are asked to retreat from our noisy lives, to avoid entertainments and parties, to spend more time quietly at home… actually, the Church calls us to do that every year, but this year, the WHO and the CDC are calling us too. We usually have to create conditions of struggle and ascesis, but this year they are ready-made and waiting for us. Welcome to the Global Great Lent.

I’ve heard a few people say that somehow the fear of this virus, and the toilet-paper-purchasing chaos that seems to be gripping our nation, is distracting us from Great Lent; it just doesn’t feel like Lent this year.

It may not feel like our usual Great Lent, but it sure is lenty isn’t it? They’ve closed down professional and college athletics, Broadway musicals and SXSW… food is a little harder to come by… those little modern luxuries we enjoy, like paper products and Lysol spray and water bottles, are scarcer and more precious. And most of all: we are constantly aware of our human mortality. Death sits steady on the radar. For once, our secular world is actually setting us up for a perfect fast.

As always, God calls us to prayer: prayer for ourselves and prayer for our loved ones, prayer for the vulnerable among us, and prayer for the hoarders and the people who shove you out of the way in the grocery store. The call is the same, but now maybe we can hear it more sharply as our mutual anxiety grows.

“When you pray to God in time of temptation do not say, ‘Take this or that away from me’, but pray like this: ‘O Jesus Christ, sovereign Master, help me and do not let me sin against Thee…’”

~ Abba Isaiah the Solitary

We are not called to ask God to spare us all from this virus, to send it only to distant strangers in faraway lands. We should be asking God to help us become all love: to give us the humility it will take to put aside our important meetings and conferences, to help us put others first, to share our resources when we aren’t sure when we’ll next be able to buy groceries. It’s one thing to be generous when life is easy, but in these days when everything feels less certain and when we feel less in control of our destinies… these are the days that test us.

“Every affliction tests our will, showing whether it is inclined to good or evil. That is why an unforeseen affliction is called a test, because it enables a man to test his hidden desires.”

~ St. Mark the Ascetic

It’s not exactly that God is testing us. God knows our hearts. Perhaps a test is just a moment that reveals our own hearts to us. I can walk through life telling myself that I am as generous and loving as they come, but in this moment I will have to face the truth of my dark and greedy heart.

This is a great Lent, indeed, for it offers us a tangible opportunity to curtail our own will in service to others and to learn to rely on God rather than on the material comforts we take for granted.

Lord of the Powers, be with us! For in times of distress we have no other help but You.

Lord and Master of my life, take away from me the spirit of laziness, idle curiosity, lust for power and vain talk.  Rather grant to me, Your servant, a spirit of moderation, humility, patience and love. Yea, Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother, for You are blessed to the ages of ages. Amen.

Wishing you good strength for a fruitful Lent!

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