The Hard Work of Lent

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” cried Howard Beale, the prophetic news anchor in the 1976 film Network. These hardly feel like the right words to embrace the upcoming Lenten season, but my mind keeps returning to the character’s fiery oration. In that scene, Beale articulated a collective rage that was both of its time and evergreen: People were angry in the post-Watergate United States, and people are angry today (myself included). 

You cannot be alive in this century without knowing anger and fear in equal measure. As a nation, we are divided by politics. As a global community, we are still navigating a virus that has redefined “normal.” Even the Church is not immune to scandal and backbiting. I think I’m right in that we are, collectively, tired. 

But after a deep breath, I am reminded that we are better than this. And while being angry may not be the ideal frame of mind when starting the season of Lent, these three quotations help me find a measure of peace. 

“Don’t let the sun go down upon your anger. Forgive each other, help each other, and begin again tomorrow.” (Little Women, Louisa May Alcott) 

Though the March sisters could test a modern reader’s patience, the character of Jo was so contemporary and relatable that she could have her own reality show in 2023. Who can’t relate to the feeling of the world stifling your joy or ignoring your talents? Who hasn’t felt alienated?  Our Lenten journey can feel like that: aggravating and directionless. But Lent isn’t designed to be easy. For every peak there is a valley, and anger only weighs us down. 

My Lenten promise: I will work through my anger instead of allowing it to worsen. 

“I’ve been looking for truth at the cost of living. I’ve been afraid of what’s before mine eyes. Every answer found begs another question. The further you go, the less you know.” (“Five-O,” James) 

I like an itinerary before I do almost anything. But this lyric from my favorite college band articulates the struggle of not being in control of the world around us. A survey of the news at the time of this writing includes the ongoing horrors of the war in Ukraine, the deepening political chasm in the United States, and the challenges of COVID-19 subvariants. Life can be an uneven road, and we don’t always have directions to higher ground. And that’s OK. Not every question has an answer—or the answer we want. The trick is to lean into our issues rather than avoid them. 

My Lenten promise: I will only worry about what I can control. The rest I will leave for God to manage. 

“To be saints is not a privilege for a few, but a vocation for everyone.” (Pope Francis) 

As the 10th anniversary of his papacy nears, I am still in awe of our pope. I am grateful that, in choosing his name, he bolstered awareness of a saint who is both medieval and timeless. St. Francis saw how frail the human condition was in his time. Pope Francis understands our own struggles and asks that we rise above them to rebuild a crumbling Church. Challenge accepted. 

My Lenten promise: While there is virtually no chance of being canonized after I die, that shouldn’t stop me from doing my part to rebuild the kingdom while I’m alive. 

Darkness and Light

Maybe the best we can do is to simply quiet our minds and ready ourselves for the season. Lent, after all, demands patience. But it always seems to start at a time when self-reflection is most needed. Sometimes it helps to have people who can encourage us. 

In Network, Howard Beale wanted to rouse America from its complacency and address our own moral bankruptcy. Prophets, fictional or otherwise, bring light to a world stumbling in the dark. They seek to unite us in the face of bitter division. The easiest (and perhaps hardest) thing we can do is follow them.  

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