Lent: The Bright Sadness

by Catherine Doherty

In the East, we feel deeply that the way to the cross—to Golgotha—is always filled with a “bright sadness,” for Christ is etched on the cross against a fantastic light, an explosion, a transfiguration: the resurrection.

So, though I feel the pain, the somber tragedy of all that is happening in Lent, my heart sings an alleluia, because of that explosive light that is within me as I interiorly walk once again those roads that Christ walked.

The main point here is an interiorization. It is so difficult for the Western world to interiorize; in the West we always want to see and touch and weigh and measure. But with these things of the spirit, each one of us must undertake that long journey inward in which he or she will meet the Triune God that dwells within us.

It takes kenosis, a stripping of oneself, a totality of surrender. It takes a total interiorization, in which we recollect all our fantastically scattered thoughts. Because, symbolically speaking, we must be naked and follow a naked Christ. We can’t take anything with us except faith, love, and hope.

This means giving up our manipulating of other people. It means giving up thinking that one’s ideas are the center of the universe.

It means having a simplicity, a childlikeness, like that which Christ said we have to have, to enter heaven. “Lord, give me the heart of a child and the awesome courage to live it out as an adult.” These are dispositions with which to enter the bright sadness of Lent.

In the Eastern Church alleluias are continued throughout Lent. Though there is a somberness, there is always this feeling that here, right at the edge, always growing, is the light of the resurrection. All throughout Lent I’m recollecting myself, and preparing to enter into this light.

The “negative” aspects of Lent are important, but not as important as what my soul feels, which at this moment is the bright sadness, because Lent is shot through with the tremendous joy of Easter.

Easter is the apex of the liturgical year. Easter is the feast of feasts, and so our whole being moves toward Easter breathlessly like a lover toward his beloved. That is the Lenten atmosphere.

From Season of Mercy, (1996), an earlier edition, MH Publications, pp. 25-26, available in a later edition