If there is a month in the year when things are at their deadest, February has got to be it. The snow refuses to melt, the cold is in no hurry to leave, and the only “holiday” is Valentine’s Day (the most commercialized, Hallmark-ed saint’s day ever). However, we do see hints of things to come. The sun rises a few minutes earlier each day, the temperature may rise a few degrees out of its sub-zero slump, we’re that much closer to Spring, and the Church calendar keeps us afloat.
First, Epiphany is not over! The darkness-destroying Light of Christ is always with us, regardless of the weather or the temperature. February 2nd is observed as the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus (40 days after Christmas; see Leviticus 12:1-4 and Luke 2:22ff. We actually celebrated this day on the First Sunday after Christmas.) Also, February 22 is observed as the Transfiguration of Our Lord, a major glimpse of Jesus’ full glory. If that doesn’t shake off the doldrums of February, I’m not sure what can! And then on February 25 we observe Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This may not seem like it fits in our discussion of brighter days in February, but without Lent, which is always guiding us toward the Resurrection, our attempts to find a silver lining in the dead times of Winter are only superficial.
I’ve probably noted this before, but it has always struck me that Lent coincides with the brightening of the days as we move toward Spring, while Advent (which we think of as a more joyous season) falls when the days are getting shorter and darker. So, in the case of Lent, we find that the message corresponds to the physical season: we creatures who long for the increased light, new life, and long days of Spring and Summer are brought through the death of repentance in Lent to the new life of Resurrection at Easter. It is no coincidence. It may be a cliché, but it seems that the night is always darkest before the day breaks.
Indeed, what Christian will deny the increasing darkness in our culture and in our world? Despite our best efforts, we have not yet been successful at eradicating war, disease, family problems, and the greatest evil of our time, abortion. These remain with us, as sin does, and we need Lent to remind us of these things. But we know that Lent is not an end unto itself, just as Advent is not an end unto itself. We put away our alleluias for a time, just as rejoicing sometimes fails us. But we know, even as we focus on repentance, that Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Even as our lives consist of Advent longing in advance of Christmas joy, so also our lives are Lenten in the reality of sin until the light of the Resurrected Christ breaks upon us on that final Day. Then we will share Christ’s resurrection as He raises our bodies from their graves. So keep waiting; February will end with an eye to Spring, even as death will end in Life.
*St. Augustine said, as Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; but with you I am a Christian.”