At the conclusion of his 2019 Lenten message, our Holy Father Pope Francis urges us to “not allow this season [of Lent] to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption and turn to Jesus’ Pasch.”
These words of the Holy Father encourage us to take advantage of the season of Lent. The 40 days are not just like all the other days of the year. They are a time to allow God to change our hearts; a time to change ourselves and a time to grow in the love of God. Each one of these actions requires work and effort on our part. God will do His part; we have to do ours.
Saint Athanasius, one of the great Fathers of the Church, wrote, “during Holy Lent we should give our attention to our cleansing and purification.” This is the hard work that we have to do on the journey of these 40 days. It requires personal resolution and commitment. You’ve got to put work into the journey that goes from Ashes to Easter.
It is said that Saint Anthony of Egypt, who many consider the first monk, started each day by saying “Today, I begin.” A 40-day spiritual journey may be well served by saying each day, “Today, I begin.” In this way, each day of this season of God’s grace is like the first day of the journey. And, if the journey is becoming arduous, it might be best to think not of 40 days but one day at a time. “Today, I begin” could be the mantra for each day of Lent.
The original meaning of the word Lent had to do with springtime. A time of growth. A time of planting. A time of preparing the soil for the new growth. Lent can be a season of spiritual renewal and spiritual growth for those who make the commitment to the journey. Renewal and growth can happen to those who are actively involved in the Lenten season.
It is a time when, as Pope Francis said, we look to Jesus and His “Pasch.” His suffering, death and Resurrection by which He gained for us salvation. He passed over the effects of sin by being freed from the clutches of death to be raised up.
We look to the Paschal Mystery, His Suffering, Death and Resurrection with eyes of faith and acknowledge His passing over, “Jesus’ Pasch,” as our salvation. The traditional practices, PRAYER, FASTING and CHARITY, on which the Lenten season is built, can help us to pass over our sins, faults and human weaknesses to fuller life in Christ. They can help us die to sin and rise to Christ.
FASTING as the Lord Jesus did for 40 days in the desert. Denying ourselves, which is symbolic of our dying with Christ. Of our being purified. Aware that the real fast is from sin. Saint John Chrysostom teaches, “The honor of fasting does not lie in abstaining from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices. Whoever limits his fasting only to abstinence from foods is discrediting the fast.” More denial of myself by fasting to be in better contact with the suffering of the world.
The denial of self can turn us toward others; emptying ourselves of ourselves to be in communion with others, especially the poor, the suffering, the hungry and those in need. Fasting should increase our CHARITY for all. Charity is the Lord’s commandment. Love of neighbor. More generosity of our time and goods (CHARITY) to better ourselves; our Church, suffering and wounded by the sexual abuse crisis; and to better our world, suffering and wounded by so much corruption.
Lent is a journey, 40 days, for some a long journey which can be challenging. But for all a much needed journey. To better our relationship with the Lord. To have more conversation (PRAYER) with Him. Seeking His mercy, His love, His presence in our lives.
These are the goals of this 40-day journey and they are achievable with the Lord’s help and with our commitment to each of these traditional practices. Lent is a time to look deeply within and to grow in holiness. It can be a time of new beginnings. May we encourage one another on this journey to a better and fuller life in Christ. May the traditional triple disciplines of Lent, PRAYER, FASTING and CHARITY, have results in us. As the Holy Father wrote: “Let this season not pass in vain.”
Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, D.D.
Bishop of Camden
Read in the Catholic Star Herald