‘It has become a tradition with many of us to give up something during Lent. That, surely, is what “fasting” means? And if, for one reason or another, the holy season finds our breakfast-tables no less generously spread than they were wont to be, we make compensation for it by doing without some little daily luxury. The effect of this is to produce a gratifying sense of irritation; such is our human make-up that the grasshopper can become a burden, and a deliberate abstention, though it be only from sweets or the cinema, pricks like a hairshirt. Which is why the forty days of Lent seem to pass so slowly; will it never be Easter Day? And no doubt it is good for us.
Only, in a curious way, this impression Lent makes on us is the exact opposite of what the Church intends. Lent ought to pass like a flash, with a sense of desperate hurry. Good Heavens! The second Sunday already and so little to show for it! Lent is the sacramental expression of the brief life we spend here, a life of probation, without a moment in it we can afford to waste. That is why it begins with St Paul's metaphor of an ambassador delivering an ultimatum; we have only a few “days of grace” to make our peace with God. Ash Wednesday recalls our ignominious, earthy origins, Easter looks forward to our eternity. The space between is not, if we look at it properly, a sluggish declension; it is a mill-race.
Which is why, saving the better judgement of the Church, I always encourage my friends, when Lent comes round, not to do without something but to get something done. For many of us, it would be something if that pile of unanswered letters on the writing-table - with all the background of disappointment, distress and inconvenience - could disappear by the time Easter comes. The manuscript we promised to read, the aunts we promised to visit - if only we could cheat ourselves into the feeling that these forty days were our last chance, how quickly they would run their course!’
from Lightning Meditations, 1959, by Mgr Ronald Knox, 1888-1957
Fr Lee Kenyon