Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Septuagesima ~ Getting Ready For Lent

Agapanthus just before blooming

It is Septuagesima Sunday on the old liturgical calendar. Septuagesima means Easter is nine weeks away - roughly seventy days. It is the first of three transition Sundays (the other two being Sexagesima and Quinquagesima) escorting us from the Christmas-Epiphany season to Lent. It is the Sunday when the Alleluia disappears and the vestment color changes to violet. The lovely Agapanthus buds in the photo above clue us in.

Septuagesima gives us a heads up. Get ready! Don't be caught off guard! Have a plan! Give Lent some thought now so you can get off to a running start come Ash Wednesday. 

Many Catholics haven't got an idea of Lent that transcends some kind of food deprivation. Americans don't do well with food: we eat too much or we eat poorly, and that's causing lots of problems. So maybe having some Lenten aspect that includes less food isn't a bad idea. 

But I have something else in mind - something that will help us to become (even a little) new by Easter. And that's the point of Christianity anyway, isn't it - to become a new kind of human person. To that end I'd propose fasting from complaining, blaming and grumbling for forty days. This is serious stuff. C.S. Lewis wrote about it in The Great Divorce.

"Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others...but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then, there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God 'sending us' to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE hell unless it is nipped in the bud."

I've met people who I'd venture wouldn't know what to talk about if they weren't complaining, blaming or grumbling. It seems to be in our national DNA as we were founded or birth-ed out of an angry rebellion hundreds of years ago. But for all our talk about being a nation of religious values we often betray that with our complaining, grumbling and blaming. 

So this Lenten Fast could be very difficult for many of us. It would require a kind of self-awareness or self-observation we're not accustomed to. Why bother? Because like a lousy diet, it's simply not good for us, and it isn't Christ-ly and it seems to reflect an un-grateful spirit.

The biblical number forty simply means a long time. So we have this long Lenten season coming up which gives us plenty of time to get at it and to make a change. I knew a dirty-mouthed man who one Lent promised to put a dollar in the jar every time he cursed. By Easter the habit had been broken. A lot can happen in forty days.

But I think when it comes to growing and evolving ourselves, Christians often don't go deeply. We try to discipline ourselves with corrective virtues (forms of practicing goodness) but the underlying problem, even pathology, remains.  A dry drunk is an alcoholic who hasn't tasted a drop, but who remains arrogant, vain, nasty, bossy, dishonest. That's because there's been no inner investigation of oneself.

So if we try the no complaining, no blaming, no grumbling fast this Lent we might ask ourselves along the way:

  • Why do I complain so much?
  • Do I even hear myself?
  • Why do I so often resort to blaming?
  • What has happened to me that grumbling is so much a part of my lifestyle? 
  • What fears might be attached to this Lenten approach? 

"Don't even go there," was a phrase Americans over-used a lot in the recent past. But there are lots of places where we SHOULD go - albeit they are interior places left locked up, hidden and un-investigated. Hint: we do a lot of this grumbling and complaining because of original sin. And original sin is not about lust, or gluttony or disobedience, but  about power. 

But not to be discouraged or put off. Look at the splendid, get ready Agapanthus buds at the start of this post. They reflect the beauty of possibility, transition and change!


  1. I was looking forward to this. Getting ready for Lent. Thinking about these things does make a difference. I hope others use your posts to think deeply about the importance of making true changes in our lives. It will pass on to others like a chain if goodwill.

  2. This is great Father. Giving up passing the blame and constant grumbling will itself be a great challenge. Pray for me that I can stick with it as the weeks go by.

  3. Great! Great! Post! You soften us with a pretty flower then down to business. I look forward to your plan and hope to really get into it. Maybe, I will do my own Lenten planner. Ready to go for Jesus and hopefully will come out in at least 3rd place. Thanks.

    1. But not to get discouraged! Asking myself the WHY questions, we stand a better chance of progress. This is real spiritual work - much more challenging than giving up chocolate.

  4. It is of the utmost importance, that such a Season of penance should produce its work in our souls, - the renovation of our whole spiritual life.

  5. I just got my Pauca Verba delivery and am so surprised to see that Lent is coming so soon. Thanks for the reminder and keeping us always reflecting on our own lives. It starts with me.

  6. But to be patient with ourselves too. Life is complicated and the spiritual life is not like taking a TUMS. It is gradual, like a season.

    1. A good analogy Father. Our spiritual life must grow like seeds from the good earth. May it take root and blossom and grow leaf by leaf.

  7. I may really die this Lent. I allow a few people to take hold of my thoughts that pretty much are murderous. At the very least hurtful. We had a specific conversation at dinner last night regarding Lent and of course the grumbling of the weight everyone had gained. So one guest said let's commit to this without knocking anybody off! The irony was I said in my own frustration and anger, "no, I'd have to knock a few people off!". Allegorically, I'll have to start with myself as always, that's usually where real healing begins. Thanks Fr. Stephen. I hope have that flower ever before me through this Lent.