By: Fr. Adam Grelinger, Guest Writer
Lent calls us to a joyful spiritual adventure. In our daily grind we can grow indifferent to the loving care of our Heavenly Father. We can forget that our lives have been purchased at a terrible cost by the self-sacrificing love of Jesus on the cross. We can doubt the providential presence of the Holy Spirit. Our hearts can grow cold to our friends and neighbors.
Lent, as a period of 40 days, not counting Sundays, leads up to the memorial of the events of the suffering, death, and triumphal resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Forty days of fasting has deep roots in Christian tradition going back to Moses’ fast of 40 days before receiving the 10 Commandments and Jesus’ 40 days in the desert
before beginning his public ministry. Even the writings of the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 mention the “40 days of Lent.”
These 40 days are a time for prayer, fasting, penance, and charity. Yet it is not meant to be a dour time. Quite the contrary. Lent is a joyful summons to spiritual adventure.
How can fasting and penance be joyful? Doesn’t it sound more like self-loathing than love? Possibly, if we really think our current life in the world is all there is, then we should soak up as much as we can before we die and lose everything. Fasting would not help us reach this goal. But through a Christian worldview we recognize we are away from our true home, we are distanced from our heart’s truest love, and we are soul-sick. In this light, we can see how the call of Lent is a call to recalibrate our hearts.
Why prayer? Because to get to know someone better we need to talk to them. A friend we seldom talk to will cease to be a friend. Through prayer we speak to, listen to, and get to know God.
Why fast? To remind ourselves of our spiritual hunger. Our hearts are restless until they rest in God, as St. Augustine speaks truly, but a life full of plenteous goods, comforts, and entertainments distracts us from our unsatisfied spiritual hunger for heavenly goods. Fasting, saying ‘no’ to certain goods for a time, reminds us of the deeper desires of our soul.
Spiritual goods can be harder to get into; they take tuning of our soul’s taste buds, practice, and greater awareness. Therefore, fasting from food or entertainment creates the space for us to taste the other goods that satisfy us more profoundly.
Why charity? First, giving generously helps those in need. Second, it makes us more Christ-like because he came to earth for the needy and downtrodden. He was often moved with compassion for the poor and the sick. Third, it helps us detach from earthly things and entrust our security more to Christ than to our possessions.
Lent is a spiritual journey. Like taking a trip, we leave things at home and change our schedule to focus on soul-enriching goods like our friends, family, and nature. Lent calls us similarly to add prayer, fast from our normal comforts, and to reach out lovingly to others. Thus, we remember Whose we are, what our hearts long
for, and that our lives are a journey to our everlasting home.
PHOTO: Courtesy photo, University Relations