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Rembrandt the Evangelist
by Pierre-Marie Dumont
The Temptation of Christ (c. 1500/1504)
by Juan de Flandes (15th–16th century)
The editorial of the month
by Teresa Caldecott Cialini
Happy leap year, readers! Yes, this February we get thatprecious “bonus” day, popping up like a forgotten tenner in an old coat pocket. Like that tenner, it isn’t really a free gift since it is made of up the four quarter days we had left over from the world’s annual rotation around the sun, but in the end it is all a matter of perspective (cf. Luke 15:8-9). There are many odd traditions around the world for 29th February, the most famous being the one of Irish origin that women do the marriage proposing on this day (apparently Saints Patrick and Brigid are behind this). Be careful if you plan to reject such a proposal, gentlemen of Scotland: the fine for you, introduced in 1288, is £1 or a silk scarf.
Growing through Lent
Since Lent begins mid-month, what better way to use this extra day than to give it back to God. As the Prophet Jeremiah says in the reading at Mass that day, A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord, with the Lord for his hope. He is like a tree by the waterside that thrusts its roots to the stream: when the heat comes it feels no alarm, its foliage stays green; it has no worries in a year of drought, and never ceases to bear fruit. The strength, stability, and overall health of a tree depends on what lies beneath the surface, and the same goes for our life in Faith. If we want to be fruitful even after seasons with no rain, we must be rooted in the living water Christ offers.
We must also seek deep down the nutrients our souls need, the essential elements for growth and development. A root will take the path of least resistance, following the minerals in the soil where it finds it can access them, and the Church reminds us in the season of Lent that we may need to clear some obstacles in the ground to allow ourselves to fully partake in the food God provides. We want to be like Anna in the Temple, who, after serving God night and day with fasting and prayer was able to see the Christ child with clear eyes when she encountered him.
Ash Wednesday falls on the 14th this year, supplanting those noble brother saints, Cyril and Methodius this time around, and, of course, “Valentine’s Day”. What a wonderful opportunity to recall the sacrifices we make this season are out of a wish to respond to the Love above all loves. Like Saints Cyril and Methodius, who gave their lives to work tirelessly for the Church in Eastern Europe, or the remarkable Saint Brigid in Ireland—or Saints Peter, Agatha, Polycarp, Blaise, and Paul Miki who all suffered martyrdom rather than deny what they knew to be true—we strive to bear suffering in the Divine pattern, for the sake of our Beloved.
“Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting” states the Collect on Ash Wednesday, “this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.” Whether we take on hardships this season for the sake of others, such as giving up time or resources for our family or neighbours, or out of an attempt to shed the weight of the worldly desires that keep us from God, any fasting or penance can be a way of preparing ourselves for the involuntary hardships that will inevitably arise in this life at some time or other.
Prayer, of course, underpins it all. Christ was to end his ministry in the greatest possible suffering and gruesome death, so how does he begin his ministry? In the desert, engaged in fasting, prayer, and spiritual combat (see the Art Essay in the back of this issue). Jesus frequently retreated to a lonely place to pray during his busiest times, as in the Gospel for the first Sunday this month, after he has spent a hard night casting out devils. Here we see clearly the desert is not simply a place of bleak emptiness: it is also a place of encounter with God, carrying biblical connotations of shelter and refuge. When you are in the wilderness, it is easier to see the stars, after all.
The Family of the Church
With an eye to those involuntary sufferings that life can bring, we pray particularly this month for those suffering from sickness (see this issue’s Blessings of the Month), and victims or survivors of the great evil of human trafficking in light of the feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita, who endured so much at the hands of slave owners. We also pray for the unemployed, especially on the first Sunday of Lent, a state which can bring all kinds of struggles in its wake. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, a gentle Father and the God of all consolation, who comforts us in all our sorrows, so that we can offer others, in their sorrows, the consolation that we have received from God ourselves (2 Co 1:3).(Read More)