There’s no doubt about it, Lent strikes a chord and touches something deep down in all our hearts, as it presents us with the challenge to reject sin and to be faithful to the God of love. Fasting, prayer and almsgiving have traditionally been the central elements of Lent for the Christian. These are the tools that we have been taught to use, in order to edge closer to God, as we continue our journey through life. For some people Lent means giving up something: perhaps beer or wine, sweets or having too much fun; while others see it as a time for sacrifice; perhaps for giving charitably to famine-relief and for going to daily Mass. But whatever type of penance we choose to undertake, our motive for doing it is all-important. For example, if we fast and deprive ourselves of food simply to achieve a slimmer figure, or to cut down on the weekly shopping bill; or if we give alms to establish a reputation as a do-gooder in the community, then our efforts count for little. We have received our reward already and we are no closer to God.
At the start of his public ministry, Our Lord went into the desert for forty days and it is because of this that we keep the season of Lent. We re-live our Lord’s experience in an attempt to establish a deeper bond and a closer friendship with God. The journey we make is an inward one, into the wilderness of our innermost self, to stand before God as we are: warts and all. This helps us to see ourselves as we really are, and as we take stock of what we are doing with our time and our talents, we become more aware of our own weakness and sinfulness. The need to change and to renew the struggle against evil by prayer, fasting and penance becomes painfully obvious. Therefore the penance we undertake should make us realise that the spiritual things of life are more important than the material. As we become conscious of our own faults and failings, we realise that changes need to be made.
If we happen to be one of those people whose speciality is always to assume the worst in everyone, then perhaps it is time to take a hard look at our gossiping, our backbiting, and our scandal mongering. A simple vow to hold our tongue might prove to be a useful medicine. We could make a resolution to be kind and pleasant to the person with whom we always seem to clash and whom we just can’t stand. What would be wrong with giving up drink or smoking or gambling if they are the cause of friction in the home?
As people of faith, daily prayer is of importance to all of us, as it’s the lifeline in our friendship with God. Our invitation to a personal relationship with Christ cannot be achieved without prayer, because prayer strengthens our faith and our trust and it brings us closer to God, just as conversation and being with a friend brings people closer together.
Lent is, above all, a time for reflection and soul searching. It’s a season when we are challenged to measure up to God’s call in various aspects of life and to take practical steps to face the evil of sin and selfishness within us. It’s a call for a change in behaviour because our persistent sinfulness and selfishness spoils our growth in the love of God.
Lent is a season of grace to be taken seriously, if we intend it to be a purifying experience of vital spiritual growth. The challenge and the struggle of Lent consist in saying No to ourselves and Yes to God.