Every Lenten season is ushered in with the reading from the prophet Joel 2: 12–13, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. How does one enter a time of fasting, weeping, and rending of hearts when you feel like you’ve already been in one for so long—when COVID-19, racism, xenophobia, political drama, ecclesial division, and the Capitol insurrection have kept us in a state of mourning and weeping for the past year? The pandemic closed many parishes during the Lenten season of 2020, and even though the liturgical seasons have come and gone, I find myself—and I’d wager that many are with me—in a state of perpetual Lent.
As I’m bombarded with reminders on social media that Lent is upon us, I’ve observed a spiritual disconnect. The way that our Catholic institutions are inviting us to enter this season makes it sound like it’s liturgical business as usual. Posts on how to prepare for Lent read like pro-forma templates, statements that in choosing not to address the problems of the day can’t help but fail to inspire. I see Mass and service times posted for Ash Wednesday with small caveats about continued parish restrictions; since I live in Los Angeles, one of the cities hit hardest by the pandemic, I know that I will not be receiving ashes this year. Yet I’m not as disappointed about it as I might have been a year ago. In this moment, these social-media posts can leave us feeling unseen and unheard by the very Church that is entrusted to walk with its people. Our personal and collective concerns require attention, acknowledgement, and accompaniment. It is not Lent as usual.