“From silly devotions and from sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us.”
– St. Teresa of Ávila
Much too often, I come across people dreading Lent. Perhaps these folks might not like to remember that we are all sinners. Perhaps they feel threatened by the scriptural reminders of condemnation and death found in the texts so often used at our worship. They might be filled with dread as they overly focus on sacrifices and rituals. In doing so, we risk minimizing the power of Christ’s cross and resurrection; forgetting God’s grace reaching out to each of us. We tend to forget to live out and share our faith in daily life, and thus fail to fully experience the joy that it can bring to us and others today (not just in heaven). Lent in its Old English root means “spring,” and today, I have trouble viewing Lent as anything but a beautiful experience of growth and new life.
As I have shared with others, I become remarkably joyful during Lent. Even as I might confess my sins anew with ashes on my head, I can’t keep from smiling. You see, Lent was coincidentally the time of my rapproachement to the Church after many years away. Much like the prodigal son, I had spent my early adult years squandering the grace offered to me in my baptism. A difficult family life and things I saw as a police officer had hardened my heart against God and others. Eventually, I had come up empty. (No surprise there, I suppose.)
It was at this time of crisis – as Lent began in 1992 – faith-filled friends reminded me of the reality of God’s grace. With their loving witness, invitation and guidance, I discovered the compassion that God had for me all along. Much like Zaccheus in his tree, I became excited to hear Christ’s invitation to join with him in celebration within his Church. God was love indeed, and God could even love me! (This was indeed a great surprise to me at the time, for I had suspected wrongfully that my sins were too great even for Christ’s cross.)
Lent that year became a gift for me to be excitedly opened and treasured; a period of renewal and celebration. It was a joyful time of being embraced by Christ and by his Church. It proved to be my “re-conversion” experience, where I discovered the beauty of our baptismal promises and shared faith. It wasn’t a perfect time, and I still struggle with sin, but Jesus used this time of shared disciplines, fellowship, and service to restore me to wholeness. By Easter, I understood more about the Resurrection than I ever dreamed possible. I had begun to experience its reality in my own life. Thus affirmed, I trust I have much more to learn and experience in the years ahead.
Despite our sin and unworthiness, I don’t believe sour-faces or dread are necessarily very appropriate as we go about our Lent. Instead, I echo Paul proclaiming, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!” For with Jesus, all things are possible – even our new life in him. I pray this Lent prove a time of “re-conversion” for us all and a very real celebration. I am sure God’s grace will surprise us once again. 
As I reentered the Church, I found listening to other people’s stories helped me on my own walk with Jesus. Both historic persons – biblical personas such as the Prodigal Son, or real people such as Zaccheus and later saints – as well as people around me became a testimony about the grace God offers us through a beautifully diverse “great cloud of witnesses.” These people of faith speak to me, not of perfection, but of God’s grace at work in our everyday lives. They remain concrete signs of God’s love active in the world as we ourselves strive to love God and neighbor.
Even as Lent is meant to be a time of self-examination and repentance, it is also certainly a time of joy. Fun need not be outlawed. Therefore, I am very grateful to the two Episcopal priests who created the interactive fun known as Lent Madness, and I happily recommend it to you as part of your own Lenten devotions.
Lent Madness is basically 32 saints (those primarily included in liturgical commemorations by the Church) matched up in a tournament-like single elimination bracket. By participating in Lent Madness, you will likely learn and laugh, because the bloggers responsible also seek to reveal the sometime laughable nature of Christ’s saints – a nature we all share.
So, I strongly urge you join other saints of our time at the website daily. We’ll read about some very special, faithful people and have the chance to vote for our favorites. Jesus offers salvation to us all, but your vote helps determine who “wins” the Golden Halo.
Watch this helpful video to learn more:
Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the Today’s New International Version translation.
© 2011 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.