“Father, when will Lent end?” The student took a big bite off his sandwich.
“Why do you ask?”
“‘Coz I don’t want to celebrate my birthday during Lent!” He said swallowing quickly, trying not to talk with his mouth full.
“What’s bad about that?” I asked.
“‘Coz meat and chicken aren’t allowed during Lent, right?”
When I understood his motive for asking, I replied, “In that case, we can say Lent ends when that which has been borrowed is finally returned!”
“Huh?!!!” He stopped chewing and gave me a very puzzled look.
His classmates quickly got the joke and laughed at him.
“But I didn’t borrow anything?” He added.
They laughed at him all the more.
He finally caught up with them and also started laughing.
The definition I gave of when Lent ends is obviously far from its true meaning. We already know that it stands for the forty days of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting that Christians would strive to live in preparation for Easter.
Easter is the culmination of our Lord’s journey of love. Jesus invites us in these forty days, to open ourselves and accompany Him in His Redeeming Passion and Death on the Cross.
However, I later realized that this casual definition may in fact help us appreciate more what Lent is: as a time of grace lent to us by God so that we can use it for our deeper conversion and transformation.
The time of our life is borrowed or on loan. We are given the talent of life, so we can merit through it. In this way, we seek to become gifts offered to God after we die. Thus, “the lending time ends when the gift we have been allowed to borrow is returned enriched” to God.
A gift, however, is not borrowed. It is given. But the idea that we have this blessing of life for a limited duration does give the sense of its being lent to us. And this is possible because of God’s infinite goodness and mercy.
One way to concretize the idea of being gifts is learning, as Pope Francis said, to see other persons as gifts as well. Referring to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the Pope reflected: “Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift. A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value.” (Lenten Address 2017) The value of persons is often expressed during in eulogies during wakes and funerals. It is always moving to hear relatives and friends express the same sentiment towards their deceased loved ones: “Lord, thank you for giving us the gift of this husband/wife, father/mother, or brother/sister in our lives…” Surely, we too would want others to say the same of us one day.
We can become better gifts if we strive better to see the gifts that other persons are to us. As we focus on their goodness, then we too will try to reciprocate it with goodness as well.
Pope Francis says, “The parable first invites us to open the doors of our heart to others because each person is a gift, whether it be our neighbor or an anonymous pauper. Lent is a favorable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ.” But we need not wait till the end of our lives to become these gifts. The Pope invites us to a daily gift-giving of ourselves to everyone. This starts with the people we live or work with.
We start by already giving small, sincere gifts from our hearts. For example, the gift of a silent prayer and sacrifice, a sincere smile, a forgiving and understanding thought, etc.
It is in filling the day with these numerous gifts of self that we will enrich the gift of our lives that one day will be returned to God gratefully. We would be like those faithful servants telling their Master: “Lord, you have entrusted me with five, here are five more!”
The Master in His joy, in receiving more of what He had entrusted would reply, “Good and faithful servant, because you have been faithful in small things, enter into the joy of your Master!”