Herald of Hope

Astronomers tell us that the season of spring officially arrived here in the Central Time Zone of the United States at exactly 4:24 p.m. last Monday, March 20. Most calendars were not so precise, and I never felt the ground quiver beneath my feet, not even slightly, as I stood at the stove that afternoon, making supper for the house, but the world changed.

That new natural season of the year signaled the promise of fresh growth in our part of the world. Farmers began their preparations for plowing and planting their fields. A century ago, my grandpa would have been standing on his side porch, smoking a cigarette and looking at the fields of his farm in central Michigan as he made final decisions about what to plant that year and where. Last year’s harvest of grain or beans had long been used or sold. The cycle of growth toward new harvests had begun again.

For Christians, the same weeks also mark the beginning of our annual Lenten preparation for the Feast of Easter. The precise date of Easter varies each year and depends, of all things, on the cycles of the moon. The 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church says it neatly:

“At the Council of Nicaea in 325, all the Churches agreed that Easter, the Christian Passover, should be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon (14 Nisan) after the vernal equinox. The reform of the Western calendar, called ‘Gregorian’ after Pope Gregory XIII (1582), caused a discrepancy of several days with the Eastern calendar. Today the Western and Eastern Churches are seeking an agreement in order once again to celebrate the day of the Lord’s Resurrection on a common date.” (Canon 1170)

The natural season of spring also signals a review of our wardrobe and decisions about what should be cleaned and sent into seasonal storage, or simply given away. Maybe plans for a summer vacation with the family might be explored, at least tentatively.

Lent, however, signals a different type of review and offers the annual opportunity for some personal and social renewal. The Gospel for Ash Wednesday each year suggests new attention to almsgiving, prayer and fasting. (Matthew 6:1-6 and 16-18) Those practices certainly seem more useful than merely giving up candy. Going out of our way to be more patient and kinder to folks we find it hard to like would be far more beneficial for everyone. The whole point of our Lenten penance, whatever we may have chosen this year, is to “come alive (spiritually) in a new way.”

If we’ve managed by God’s grace to be faithful to the decisions made when we still had dirt on our foreheads, we’ve been fortunate. If the choices have been rather quickly fudged (again this year), however, this is the time to renew the decisions, or at least make them more realistic and fruitful. These are words which I write out of personal experience again this year.

Happy Spring. Happy Lent.