Today begins the Holy Season of Lent! This is a joyful season, a positive time for new life to appear, bad habits to disappear, a time of preparing with our minds and hearts renewed.
Pope Francis in this year’s Lenten message, “The Word is a Gift, Other Persons Are Gifts,” writes, “Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts” (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, he patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, he shows us his readiness to forgive (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).” He also references the parable of Lazarus and the rich man and that, “Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift.”
In Pope Benedict XVI’s papal Lenten message (2009), he wrote: “The Sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it. For this reason, the history of salvation is replete with occasions that invite fasting.”
The self-denial of fasting helps us to appreciate and embrace what Lent is all about: a time to return to the Lord with our whole hearts, a time of penance to prepare our hearts for the Risen Lord. Since we have already been fasting throughout the year on Wednesdays and Fridays, what can we do to make Lent even more penitential? What can we do to “step it up a notch?” What other practices can we take part in over the next six weeks to prepare our hearts and souls for the Risen Lord?
Daily Mass, Adoration, reading/reflecting on Scripture, reciting the Rosary, the Seven Sorrows Chaplet, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Stations of the Cross, and almsgiving are all excellent ways to journey with Christ through Lent. In keeping with the Holy Father’s Lenten message that “other persons are a gift,” we could also visit the elderly, sick and imprisoned. The gift of our time during this penitential season is something that can be priceless to those who are lonely and shut-in.
As we begin Lent in earnest, let us pray that the self-denial of fasting will help to prepare our hearts for the Risen Lord. Let us joyfully attend Mass as often as we can, read Scripture, recite the Rosary and other chaplets as well as visit the elderly and sick.
As Pope Francis says, “…refuse to settle for mediocrity.”