Protopresbyter Themistoklis Mourtzanos
In the minds of people today, Lent’s a period of cleansing, of nutritional detoxification, preparation for Easter, not in terms of a change of life but of diet. This time seems to them more like a memory from the past, perhaps linked to grandparents. It leads them to church on Friday evenings to hear ‘Hail, Bride Unwedded’, to take communion at the first weekend, to be given flowers at the Veneration of the Cross, to say an extra prayer, as if at a beautiful interlude in life’s routine which otherwise doesn’t change and can’t do so. The timetable of the services is so arranged that it requires the dedication of monastics to follow the pattern and perspective. The result is that, for many, if they even want it, the radio is the only, small point of contact. We may be able to find on the internet what’s being read in the churches during this period, but it’s not a priority. Some people might go to confession. They may feel that it’s a period in which the soul requires more peace and reconciliation with God, but always within the context of a way of life that can’t be revised. Nostalgia.
Things are even more different for young people. The feeling that by our own will we can restrict our ego and our rights is unacceptable from the outset in a life of virtual reality, of the incentive to satisfy our every desire, of boredom, of the egocentrism that makes us want always to be in the right. Besides, what we call spirituality, as a quest for God, as well as something lasting in our life, be it love or goals or company and companionship, involves a focus that isn’t among the top priorities of our times. Younger people continue to feel distanced from their parents. The Church is unable or unwilling to talk to the younger generation in a different language, one that springs from an approach to life based on its actual reality. The gap increases. So what has Lent got to say to young people?
Well, there’s no call for despair; what’s needed is re-evangelization. Instead of a full-on diet without oil, a suggestion for a lighter fast for the young, for shorter periods, but steady. An effort by the Church to bring back the importance of Wednesdays and Fridays as fast days for the family, as well as alms-giving, since the money saved from buying food on these days can be given to those in need. The Salutations to our Lady should be milestones on the Fridays in Lent, with services for school children and university students. There should be encouragement to take holy communion, with extra liturgies being served on the Sundays in Lent. Days of prayer should be established for categories of people who speak to the soul of young people, such as cancer sufferers, the aged, the unemployed, the poor, and strangers. And a reminder on every day in Lent of words from the Gospel, which give a different perspective on incidents in life such as sorrow, an inability to reconcile, death and judging other people. Fasting from the media one day a week. Principally, however, a reminder of the presence of Christ as the beginning and end of the lives of all of us, as our helper and protector, so that we can rediscover what we’re missing: the love which overcomes the ego and the present.