THE REAL MEANING OF HOLY LENT
Gospel reading for the 1st day of Holy Lent is the story about Alms,
Fasting and Prayer — a lesson in which Our Lord Jesus warns us not to make a
show of our good works "as the hypocrites do." This
is a particularly good warning for Holy Lent because we are tempted to do that
in this season more than in any other. Temptation and resisting temptation,
repentance and turning to the things of Almighty God are the themes of the
of us are conditioned that Holy Lent is the season to set aside for
self-examination and assessment. Holy Lent is a time to repent of our lack of
attention to the things of Almighty God and our over-attention to our selfish
lives. It is a time to Confess our sins — those we commit by doing things we
shouldn't do and those we commit by not doing things we should do. We want to "own
up," “get right with God," and turn again to the
truth. Lent is the time to do that.
our Lord's words remind us that sin is much more than our sins, the bad things
we do. Readings during the Lenten season note that Our Lord Jesus was tempted
just as we are. But, the difference between Him and us is not that we give in
to sin and He did not, but that we are sinful and He is not. Sin is a quality
of life that goes beyond the wrongs that we do or do not do. It affects
everything we are — even what we think, dream, and hope. That is what the Lord
Jesus warns us about today.
In Lent we review our life, intending to repent of our sins and to turn again to the things of Almighty God. The Lord Jesus reminds us that even though our intentions may be sincere, it is not a matter of repenting sins but of having a sinful nature. Our piety is seldom pure and without completely genuine. At some level we usually repent and reform with one eye to the attention or reward we may receive. Some part of us repents because we hope for “good things” because we are repentant — or because we want to avoid the guilt and the “bad things” of continuing in sin.
At least a part of us, in our repentance, is not sorry that we sinned, but we repent because we fear the consequences before a Just and Righteous God. At least a part of us is like the boy who is caught stealing candy and is sorry — very sorry — not that he stole the candy but that he got caught doing it. When the chips are down, even in our repentance, our bottom line always "What's in it for me?"
That's what it means to be a sinner. That truth, that fact, is the definition of sin — double-mindedness, distorted devotion, self-concern are always within us, even in our most sincere moments of prayer and repentance and devotion to Almighty God. And we can't change that; we can't do anything about it. We cannot overcome what we are — self-centered, self-serving people. Even our repentance is tainted with concern for our own advantage.
why St. Paul takes such pains to tell us, over and over, again and again, that
we cannot save ourselves by our deeds, by our faith, by our piety. We can rend
our garments, Jesus says, we can put on an outward show as the Pharisees do, we
can give to the hungry or the needy, we can pray and fast, we can dedicate
ourselves to devotions, but being right before God does not consist of these
Lent is a time to take a look at ourselves, to examine our lives to see what is
wrong and what needs to be put right. Certainly this is a good thing— possibly
evens a necessary thing — and it has value. But Jesus tells us that it is a
dangerous thing to approach Lent as we usually approach it. It is a dangerous
thing because it can lead us into what our Lord calls an outward form of piety
— a form of piety in which we rend our garments instead of our hearts.
suggests that we use Lent not as a time to look inward to consider what we have
done or have not done but a time to look up, to see even more clearly what God
has done and is doing. Lent is a time to consider the love of God that calls us
to be his people, even in our sin, even as we are.
since, as we are, we are not able to turn to God; our only hope is that God
will turn to us. And that, precisely, is the Good News of the Gospel that comes
to us again today. The Good News that while we are yet in our sin, Almighty God
loves us and Jesus dies for us. That's the real meaning of Lent.
FASTING AND THE MIND
- “The head or chief of the virtues is Prayer; their foundation is Fasting.
- Fasting is constant moderation in food with prudent discernment in its use.
- Proud man! You think so much and so highly of your mind, while all the time it is incomplete and constant dependence on your stomach.
- The law of Fasting, though outwardly a law for the stomach, is essentially a law for the mind.
- The mind, that sovereign ruler in man, if it wishes to enter into its rights of autocracy and retain them, must first submit to the law of Fasting. Only then will it be constantly alert and bright; only then can it rule over the desires of the heart and body. Only with constant vigilance and temperance can the mind learn the commandments of the Holy Gospel and follow them. The foundation of the virtues is Fasting.”
A THOUGHT OR TWO ON FASTING
fasting I gladden my hope in Thee, my Lord, Who are to come again.
hastens my preparation for Your coming, the sole expectation of my days and
makes my body thinner, so that what remains can more easily shine with the
waiting for You, I wish neither to nourish myself with blood nor to take
life–so that the animals may sense the joy of my expectation.
truly, abstaining from food will not save me. Even if I were to eat only the
sand from the lake, You would not come to me, unless the fasting penetrated
deeper into my soul.
have come to know through my prayer, that bodily fasting is more a symbol of
true fasting, very beneficial for someone who has only just begun to hope in
You, and nevertheless very difficult for someone who merely practices it.
I have brought fasting into my soul to purge her of many impudent fiancé’s and
to prepare her for You like a virgin.
I have brought fasting into my mind, to expel from it all daydreams about
worldly matters and to demolish all the air castles, fabricated from those
have brought fasting into my mind, so that it might jettison the world and
prepare to receive Your Wisdom.
I have brought fasting into my heart, so that by means of it my heart might
quell all passions and worldly selfishness.
have brought fasting into my heart, so that heavenly peace might ineffably
reign over my heart, when Your stormy Spirit encounters it.
prescribe fasting for my tongue, to break itself of the habit of idle chatter
and to speak reservedly only those words that clear the way for You to come.
I have imposed fasting on my worries so that it may blow them all away before
itself like the wind that blows away the mist, lest they stand like dense fog
between me and You, and lest they turn my gaze back to the world.
fasting has brought into my soul tranquility in the face of uncreated and
created realms, and humility towards men and creatures. And it has instilled in
me courage, the likes of which I never knew when I was armed with every sort of
was my hope before I began to fast except merely another story told by others,
which passed from mouth to mouth?
story told by others about salvation through prayer and fasting became my own.
fasting accompanies false hope, just as no fasting accompanies hopelessness.
just as a wheel follows behind a wheel, so true fasting follows true hope.
Help me to fast joyfully and to hope joyously,
for You, my Most Joyful Feast, are drawing near to me
with Your radiant smile.