A question that recently formed in is whether there is Lent after Lent? Before proceeding any further, I need to offer two brief points of clarification: 1) I apologize if I have just happened to unsettle anyone with the frightening prospect of another immediate lenten period; and 2) I am not a “lent freak!” My purpose in the question “Is there Lent after Lent?” is meant to pose a challenge. Is there anything spiritually fruitful that we began to do – or anything spiritually unfruitful that we ceased to do – during Great Lent that we can carry over with us into the Paschal season and beyond? Are we able to establish some genuine consistency in our ecclesial lives? Surely this is one of the most important elements in nurturing a holistic approach to our Faith. If I am not mistaken, a real temptation that exists once Great Lent is over, is to go back to “life as usual,” as if Great Lent is at most a pious interlude during which we act more “religiously;” and at worst, a period of specific rules that are meant to be more-or-less mechanically observed out of a sense of obligation. This undermines the whole reality of repentance at its core, and drives us back into the dubious practice of the religious compartmentalization of our lives. Great Lent is over – now what?
I am not even sure just how healthy it is to assess and analyze our Lenten efforts. Great Lent is a “school of repentance,” but this does not mean that we are to grade ourselves upon its completion. However, we can ask ourselves the following.
- Did I practice prayer, charity and fasting in a more responsible, regular, and consistent manner?
- Did I make a point of reading the Scriptures with the same care and consistency?
- Did I participate in the liturgical services with greater regularity?
- Did I watch over my language and gestures, or my words and actions on an over-all basis with greater vigilance?
- Did I make a breakthrough on overcoming any specific “passions” or other manifestations of sinful living?
- Did I work on establishing any broken relationships?
- Did I simply give more of myself to Christ?
- Did I come to love Christ even more as I prostrated myself in faith before His life-giving Cross and tomb?
Then why not continue? Not to continue is to somehow fail to actualize in our lives the renewal and restoration of our human nature that definitively occurred through the Cross and Resurrection. Appropriating the fruits of Christ’s redemptive Death and life-giving Resurrection is essential for our self-designation as Christians.
In other words, can we carry the “spirit” of Lent (and some of its practices) with us outside of Lent? In this way, we are no longer “keeping Lent” but simply practicing our Faith with the vigilance it requires. We still must fast (on the appropriate days), pray and give alms. We still need to nourish ourselves with the Holy Scriptures. We must continue to wage “warfare against the passions” that are always threatening to engulf us. We need to deepen our love for Christ so that is surpasses any other commitment based on love in our lives. Or, have we doomed ourselves to being intense in the practice of our Faith for a short, predetermined length of time, and then pay “lip service” to, or offer token observance of, the Christian life until next year? In a rather unfortunate twist, Great Lent can work against us when we reduce it to such a limited purpose. Great Lent is the designated time of year meant to get us “back on track” so as to live more consciously Christian lives because certain circumstances and our weaknesses often work against us. It is the “example” rather than the “exception” if properly understood. In other areas of life, do we simply abandon good practices – in matters of health, let us say – because a designated period of testing or observing these good practices has come to an end?
Having enjoyed the treat of a “fast-free” period during Bright Week, we have returned to our “usual” pattern of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, as the initial glow of Pascha slowly recedes. It is very hard to re-establish a discipline temporarily suspended with the Paschal celebration. Yet, in many ways we are returning to “life as usual,” even in the Church, but that is a “way of life” that is directed by the wisdom of the Church toward our salvation and as a witness to the world. Let us take the best of Lent, and continue with it throughout the days of our lives.
“Lent after Lent” means that there is “Life after Pascha.”