It is crucial that we see Lent as God’s gift to us. We tend to see Lent in the negative – we must “die” to self and give up something; sounds depressing at first glance. But Lent is a gift to us, because sin is insidious. St. John Paul II wrote that we all have an “affection for sin…” If we are not spiritually alive, it is easy for us to fall deep into sin, to become lazy and apathetic. God is our Father, who does not want His children to be slaves to sin. That’s why Lent is a forty day journey. Symbolically it reminds us of Noah’s 40 days and nights in the flood, Moses’ fast of 40 days on Mt. Sinai, Israel’s 40 years wandering in the desert seeking the Holy Land. If we examine each of these stories we see that each of them involved time; time for God’s people to rediscover their identity, time to grow in holiness, and time to turn back to God. This is a reminder that sin is not easy to deal with – it often takes time for us to honestly face up to our faults and failings and learn the way of dying to self and rising in Christ.
That’s why during the season of Lent, the Church turns our minds more deeply to the mysteries by which we were reborn in Christ. Each of us was reborn of water and spirit (John 3:5-6). It is through Baptism that we were saved and washed clean of sin and made members of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church. The transforming power of baptism has been unleashed in us, but it needs to be stirred up over and over so that we can rise with Christ at Easter. That power is released in three main ways:
Have we ever thought of the fact that Jesus asks us to pray? The Lord never coerces us into anything – it’s an invitation, we are radically free. Why does Jesus invite us to pray? First, He tells us in the Gospel of Luke, how much the Father wants to give us good gifts (Luke 11:13). Second, we pray so that God can help us to become more like Him, so that we can experience communion with Him. Thirdly, we pray so that we might be renewed – we call it conversion – that movement of the Spirit that searches our hearts and shows us those areas where we need to surrender, to repent of and place in His hands. Fourth, we pray to give thanks – to thank God for all He has given us, and for the possibility of eternal life.
By fasting, we allow ourselves to feel the mighty stimulus of hunger and ignore it. By fasting, we feel within ourselves the urge to react and then we don’t. This denial is a powerful reminder of who we are meant to be, for if we can say “no” to our passions, surely we are reminded that there is more than just the material universe, there is also the transcendent and eternal world. We do not live solely by our passions and desires. Furthermore, fasting reminds us that we are able to see food for what it is, God’s gift to us, and thank Him for it. We are able to recognize that so many do not have food every day and so we don’t take it for granted. And it enables us to see eating or anything else for that matter in a spiritual way – by giving up food or meat or something we love, for the salvation of others, for a loved one, for those who suffer, etc., we offer it up to the Lord who can empower our fasting with supernatural grace.
We live in a world that is constantly pursuing the ego, self-gratification. This is a consequence of sin. Our desires are often warped by our fears, our pride, a false sense of what we think we really need in this life. Almsgiving helps us to take the focus off of ourselves. By showing concern for others, especially the poor, we unite ourselves with Jesus who declared: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me, to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19) By being concerned with the needs of others we learn to have the heart of Christ, a heart of compassion and mercy.
God bless, Fr. Dennis