The Christian liturgical season of Lent begins today. It is a period of forty six days inspired by the example of Jesus in the desert preparing for the public announcement of his mission and the beginning of his ministry of service among the people. It is a time for purifying and renewing the spirit. The method recommended for achieving this purpose is practising the biblical disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. cf Matt. Chap.6:1-18. This could be called an older version of Operation Transformation.
In the past, the fasting discipline was very strictly observed. One full meal and two collations were the daily allowance of food for those over eighteen and under seventy years of age and eating meat on Friday was forbidden under pain of mortal sin. Resolving to quit smoking and stop drinking alcohol was a popular penitential resolution for adults and children were encouraged to give up eating sugar and sweets and other luxuries and the pennies saved in the process were sent to those in need.
How can these ancient disciplines be applied in our modern world? There is a lot of emphasis today on a healthy lifestyle with good eating habits and lots of exercise. Lent might be a good time to begin better eating and exercise habits. Our modern world is obsessed with things. We want more of everything but the result is not always satisfaction or happiness. When we try to settle for more of what we need and less of what our craving wants, we will have more to offer to others who have far greater needs than we have. This reaching out of a helping hand to others is called almsgiving. For prayer, it might be possible to take time alone and in silence each day consciously reflecting on what is happening in our lives and deciding on what response is necessary. Prayer begins as a dialogue with the spirit of God within ourselves and at the heart of human experience. In this year of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in August, a new experience of family prayer could be designed and put into practice.
Practising the biblical disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving is a necessary first step on the way of salvation to becoming a beatitude person. It is the redemption part of the journey. When we become less preoccupied with ourselves, we can move then into the bigger picture of life which is more compassionate, inclusive and caring. Our call is to become a resurrection person like Jesus, living life to the full and helping and encouraging others along the way.
The theme underlying all others in this year’s Scripture readings and reflections during Lent is that of unconditional love. The first week highlights love as a covenant relationship. God’s love for us is unconditional but ours is sometimes halfhearted and constantly in need of reviewing and renewing.
What is my response to God who loves me?
What can I do this Lent which will change my life and the life of others for the better?
It is time now to go to the church for the Ash Wednesday Mass and be marked with ashes to signify a desire for a change of heart during this season of penance and purification. The words, ” Remember that you are dust” and “Repent and believe the Good News” are echoing around the world today.