Tomorrow, after we have celebrated St. Pancake Day today, is Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of Lent. One of the nice things about St. Leo the Great’s sermons is that they are ‘festal’ or ‘liturgical.’ Unlike exegetical sermons, their purpose is not to bring out the meaning of a biblical passage; rather, their purpose is to bring out the meaning of a liturgical feast.
I’ve been working on them slowly, starting around November; thus, in Advent I read his sermons on Advent, at Christmas on Christmas, at Epiphany on Epiphany. Now we are at Lent, and I am savouring his Lenten offerings.
In Sermon 41, Pope Leo says:
It is indeed fitting for us at all times, dearly beloved, to live wisely and purely, and to direct our wills and actions to what we know is pleasing to divine justice. But, when those days approach which the mysteries of our salvation have made brighter for us, our hearts must be made clean with more zealous care, and the discipline of virtue must be exercised more earnestly. As these mysteries are greater than any one part of them, so our observance also should surpass in some way our usual custom, and those who celebrate the feast withmore solemnity should also find themselves so much the more elevated by it. (Trans. Freeland & Conway, p. 176)
I agree. It is time for us to prepare our hearts for the celebration of the Feast of Feasts, of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus from the dead, of the day of our salvation, of the mysteries that make us into new people.
Many of us will be giving up chocolate or meat or coffee or alcohol or television or something along those lines. Others will read a spiritual book or do a deep study of a portion of Scripture. Still others will give extra of their money to a charity.
This last is something that Leo would approve of greatly, as seen in Sermon 40, where he reminds his congregation that the Lord approves of a fast that consists of giving to the poor and clothing the naked and feeding the hungry.
What is more radical than giving of our money and giving up soda pop is giving of ourselves. Here is where I fail to live up the high falutin’ rhetoric of this blog most notably, I think. When do I give to the poor? When do I give my time and energy and skills to aid those less fortunate?
Perhaps I should take more seriously this call of Leo’s that runs back not only to Jesus in the Gospels but to YHWH in the Old Testament. Perhaps this Lent is the Lent to truly change how I live.