Feasting and fasting. 11 months of shielding and lockdowns feels like a year-long Lent, so I’m reinventing the tradition this year. Instead of fasting, I’m celebrating a different saint every day. If you look through calendars of Saints, you find that every date has a selection of Saints who are celebrated on that particular day, often because it’s the day they died, sometimes another significant reason. From this range of choice Ice decided to celebrate a saint every day of Lent whose story offers some hope, joy or wisdom for the current days of pandemic. The bonus is that tradition has it that the Lenten fast can be broken in order to celebrate a Saint’s day. I realize, of course, that making every day of Lent a feast not a fast is completely subverting tradition. But these are unusual days; too much self-denial added to the load of restrictions we are already living under could just break the spirit. Instead let’s look for one small thing every day that brings joy and hope. A reason to be glad, despite everything.
Ash Wednesday (day 1) — today is the feast day of St Finan of Lindisfarne. Not as famous as Aidan and Cuthbert, he was the kind of guy who did the hard work of establishing what his more charismatic forbears had got started. Like Andrew to St Peter, Finan was an organiser, a leader who could strategize and put foundations down.
Who do you know who does the unglamorous but vital work of establishing things? (Lent suggestion: send a note to someone who does great work to keep things going — a teacher, manager, financial manager, priest, lay minister, youth worker…?)
Thursday (day 2) — Colmán of Lindisfarne (c. 605 – 675 CE) was Bishop of Lindisfarne from 661 until 664. After that he returned to Ireland, where he set about reviving the church after life had been completely decimated by a terrible plague in 664-665. He learned a thing or two about putting communities back together after they had been swept through by a dreadful infectious illness. He died on this day in 675.
Lent suggestion: what imaginative ways might we have of putting our communities back together, after all the grief and sorrow we have endured lately? (— and I don’t mean after it’s all over, I mean today. I don’t know what we’ll need when it’s over because we really don’t know what life will look like on the other side of this. When we emerge from the pandemic we’ll go forward to something new, not back to what we had before. )
Friday (day 3)
Saint Beatus of Liébana (c. 730 – c. 800) was a monk and theologian from Northern Spain, in the area now known as Cantabria.
There was another Beatus (from Switzerland) who did amazing things like slaying dragons. But Beatus of Liébana just lived a quiet scholarly life, standing up against weird ideas, listening to people pour their hearts out, and teaching people who ended up much more famous than him.
I like this Beatus. Like a lot of people I’ve found that the seemingly endless living in limbo that the pandemic has brought upon us has been emotionally very draining, and there have been days when I’ve found myself thinking that my entire life has been pointless, my gifts wasted and my potential completely unrealized. Reading the news tells me I’m not unique — apparently a lot of us have been feeling this kind of stuff. And Beatus reminds me that you don’t have to be famous, or be remembered forever for slaying dragons or other extraordinary things. Living a faithful life, just being good to those around you is enough.
Takeaway for the day: you are enough. Just live this one day, be good to those you love, breathe the air, and find a reason to be glad. That’s all, and that’s enough.
Saturday 20th (Day 4) Francisco and Jacinta de Jesus Marto, and Lúcia dos Santos. Francisco and his younger sister Jacinta lived in a tiny village near Fátima, Portugal. They went out to play with their cousin Lúcia dos Santos, who used to look after the sheep in the nearby fields, and in 1916 these three kids saw three visions of the Angel of Peace. The following year, multiple times, they saw multiple apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at Cova da Iria, in which she told them to return to the same spot regularly to pray. Francisco and Jacinta reported these apparitions, and this led to the Virgin Mary being given the title ‘Our Lady of Fátima’, and later on Fátima became a major Christian pilgrimage center.
Sad to say, not long after these experiences both Francisco and Jacinta dies very young (aged 10 and 9) in the flu pandemic of 1918-20 (sometimes called the ‘Spanish Flu’). Later they were both canonized as Saints. Lúcia, though, lived to the age of 97, spending her life as a Carmelite nun. After her death, the Catholic Church began the process to recognize her as a saint as well.
Their story resonates for this lockdown Lent, not only for the obvious reason that two of the three died in an earlier pandemic, but for two other reasons as well.
The first is that their spiritual legacy emerged, not from heroic deeds, but from simple childlike curiosity. They remind me of Moses who, seeing a tree that seemed to be on fire without burning up, stepped aside from his shepherd’s duties to see what was going on, and found himself in conversation with God. Or of Elisha’s servant (2 Ki 6) whose eyes were opened to see the hills around him covered with chariots of fire. Francisco, Jacinta, and Lúcia were just playing and looking after sheep, but they had enough of that fearless curiosity to see more than meets the eye.
The second is that there were three of them in this together. Usually a saint’s day is a commemoration of one single person, but remembering this event is a great reminder that our journey into God is not individualistic. Of course there is a sense in which we live and die alone. But our work on earth, and our significance to eternity, is closely tied up with others — with our loved ones, our community, and the whole human race.
Day 4 Takeaway: give your curiosity enough space to look up, look around, and ponder. And remember you’re not in this alone.