Lent is not a diet program nor is it a spiritual competition. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are means to an end, not ends in themselves. They are the recommended ways for us to deepen our encounter with Christ and grow in holiness. We seem to know this but when a food that we have given up for Lent is placed before us, do you say, “NOOOO, I have given it up for Lent!”? Of course, this is an exaggeration to make a point. Pope Francis in his 2023 Lenten Message focuses us on the purpose of penance during Lent.
“Lenten penance is a commitment, sustained by grace, to overcoming our lack of faith and our resistance to following Jesus on the way of the cross. To deepen our knowledge of the Master, to fully understand and embrace the mystery of his salvation, accomplished in total self-giving inspired by love, we must allow ourselves to be taken aside by him and to detach ourselves from mediocrity and vanity. We need to set out on the journey, an uphill path that, like a mountain trek, requires effort, sacrifice, and concentration.”
Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving do take “effort, sacrifice, and concentration.” They are also “sustained by grace.” We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that we are doing this on our own. What we are doing is cooperating with the grace of Christ who wants us to deepen our encounter with him. The Church offers us these traditional Lenten practices and penances so that we may come into greater life in him in and through our daily lives. As Pope Francis reminds us,
“While our ordinary commitments compel us to remain in our usual places and our often repetitive and sometimes boring routines, during Lent we are invited to ascend ‘a high mountain’ in the company of Jesus and to live a particular experience of spiritual discipline – ascesis – as God’s holy people.”
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
In God, the Infinite Love,