It’s interesting how learning a new language opens up new horizons as words that one purports to be familiar with take on new meanings. We began the season of Lent a few days ago and there are calls for prayer, fasting and alms-giving – acts of mortification that would allow us to enter more deeply into this season. I know the roots of the word ‘mortification’ but learning (and struggling to speak) a new language puts things into greater perspective. Mortification comes from the Latin mortem (morte in Italian) and refers to the acts of self-denial and how one has to die to oneself in order to rise with the Lord. That’s all integral to the spiritual life and our progress in it but sometimes we can take ourselves too seriously and go overboard with the ‘dying’ component of the mortification (and Lenten observances) and forget the living bits.I’d like to propose a different way of seeing Lent. Instead of dying to ourselves, why not live more fully the life that the Lord gives us? Instead of mortification, why not try humanification instead? This is not a call for laxity or removal of our Lenten observances but to do the same with a different and possibly more expansive point of view. The image of dying to oneself in one’s pursuit of God has its merits but may not be as palatable to many in this day and age. Humanification or the recovering of our true essence as created beings of the Lord can be an easier entry-point to the penances and observances of Lent that more can adopt before deepening the process with the dying to the self. Allow me to explain this in the light of the three calls of Ash Wednesday to prayer, fasting and alms-giving.
We start with the self and our need for dependency for God. That’s what fasting does to us. As we are deprived of something that we normally have or are used to, we’re forced to recognise our human frailty and strengthen our faith and trust in God our creator. We’re humanified here because we embrace our fallen humanity even more closely in the recognition of our weakness and are more desirous of the conversion that only God can bring us. We put ourselves in a position to be healed as only humans need to be and that in turn brings us closer to God who reaches out to us always.
Next, we move out of the self to our relationship with others. That’s where alms-giving comes in. We do not operate as islands and alms-giving points us in the direction of the other. By not confining ourselves to our own selfish needs, our vision of creation expands as we are better able to love and serve others from our own weakness. This practice of love of others helps to fulfil the command of the Lord to love others but also spreads the goodness and the humanity that is inherent within us to all around.
Finally, we move from the created to the creator. That’s where prayer comes in. We are made more human as we humble ourselves to seek God our creator. There is a part of all of us that wants to seek God, to improve our relationship with God and to move towards all that is divine. That’s the human in us that also seeks God who became human for us. We often stop ourselves with distractions and other things that intervene. During Lent, a clear commitment to prayer can bring us out of that rut towards repairing or deepening that relationship that we seek.
Humanify our Lent – be more human so that we can be more holy. Whatever way we like to see Lent, we embrace it as a time of grace that allows us to purify and sanctify ourselves in preparation for the mystery that is the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord. How are we being more human this Lent?