Lent is a holy season in the church calendar, but I wonder if it isn’t awfully easy to miss the point of it.
Pope Francis recently wrote a letter to the church about the season. In it, he reminds us to practice the basic
Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. He says we should do those things because our hearts have
a tendency to become cold and they need to be warmed up again with love.
One thing I often remind people: Lent is not a time for misery, it is not a time to be grumpy. Jesus is
clear that when we fast we are to anoint our heads with oil and rejoice. Lent is a time set aside for a special kind
Lent is a time of repentance, yes, but repentance in the scripture is constantly presented to us as a
liberation, as a coming to ourselves, as a release from captivity. Repentance is the true key to joy and blessedness.
Pope Francis says in his letter that “many of God’s children are mesmerized by momentary pleasures,
mistaking them for true happiness! How many men and women live entranced by the dream of wealth, which only
makes them slaves to profit and petty interests! How many go through life believing that they are sufficient unto
themselves, and end up entrapped by loneliness!” He goes on to say that “More than anything else, what
destroys love is greed for money, “the root of all evil.” The rejection of God and his peace soon follows; we prefer
our own desolation rather than the comfort found in his word and the sacraments. All this leads to violence
against anyone we think is a threat to our own ” certainties”: the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the
migrant, the alien among us, or our neighbour who does not live up to our expectations.”
Here is what Pope Francis suggests for our Lenten practice to work against those temptations:
“By devoting more time to prayer, we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception,
and then to find the consolation God offers. He is our Father and he wants us to live life well.
Almsgiving sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbour as a brother or sister. What I possess is
never mine alone. How I would like almsgiving to become a genuine style of life for each of us! How I would like
us, as Christians, to follow the example of the Apostles and see in the sharing of our possessions a tangible
witness of the communion that is ours in the Church…I would also hope that, even in our daily encounters with
those who beg for our assistance, we would see such requests as coming from God himself. When we give alms,
we share in God’s providential care for each of his children. If through me God helps someone today, will he not
tomorrow provide for my own needs? For no one is more generous than God.
Fasting weakens our tendency to violence; it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth. On
the one hand, it allows us to experience what the destitute and the starving have to endure. On the other hand, it
expresses our own spiritual hunger and thirst for life in God. Fasting wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to
God and our neighbour. It revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.”
During this Lenten season, we will follow the Pope’s advice and focus on those three things. Each week
we will have suggestions in the bulletin for prayer and for almsgiving we can do together. We will also make
suggestions about the things we can fast from other than food. It is the hope that our Lenten practices will free us
and bring us closer to God.