Lent is a season of love. Out of love, God the Father sent the Son from Heaven into the world to redeem us so that once more, Heaven, closed to us by original sin, shall once again be opened for us. “For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting (Jn. 16:16)”. Out of love for the Father and for us, the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, came down to earth, became like us (except for sin), and suffered and died to pay our debts to God. By His death and resurrection, he opened the gates of Heaven for us.
Lent is simply the continuation of Christmas. Both seasons speak of the love of God and ask a corresponding response from us. At Christmas time, however, it is easier to feel and see the love because its subject is a little cuddly baby. It is just easy to fall in love with babies. Moreover, there are many pretty distractions during Christmas. During Lent, love is at its best but suffering takes center stage and sometimes obscures our vision of love. There are no pretty things. Instead, we see Jesus as the very personification of suffering, instead of the adorable Infant of Christmas. The love that caused His Incarnation has been put in a crucible, and our response too is being put in a crucible.
How do we respond?
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This season, the Church calls for penance.
Penance. In the course of a relationship, let us say, a marriage, the wife or husband does things that offend the other. The one who committed the wrong should say sorry, and will most likely give the offended spouse a hug or a kiss to make up for the wrong. In addition, the offender will keep in mind the offense that was done and resolve not to repeat it anymore in order to mend the relationship and to please the other spouse. So it is, and with even more reason, regarding our relationship with God. In the course of our lives, we do things that are not pleasing to Him (which is generally called sin). So, we have to say sorry and to resolve not to do that which offended Him. Oftentimes, we need to sacrifice our own desires and habits and inclinations in order to keep the promise. We not only make sacrifices to avoid a sin, we also sometimes make sacrifices so that we can do or give something to God. For example, when one gives alms, he forgoes all the fun stuff that he could get with the money that was given as alms.
Penance stands on the tripod of prayer, fasting, and good works.
Fasting. Many among us will fast – from food, from bad habits, from entertainment. Many will do mortifications that we do not usually do. Why? It is not for difficulty's sake. It is a discipline of the body, of the will and of the soul. Fasting helps us conquer our appetites and inclinations and bring our body and soul in line with God's will. “Aw! There is no need to fast. Being kind, doing a little kind deed here and there is enough.” We hear that quite often today. Well, in the first place, Jesus Himself fasted for forty days before He began His public ministry. St. John the Baptist fasted almost all of his life. The people of Nineveh fasted and gained forgiveness from God.
Fasting is very difficult indeed. That is most likely the reason why most of us wish to avoid it and belittle its value. It takes something away from the one who fast. Maybe, that, together with the right spirit, is where its merit lies.
Good works. Don't we do good things for the one we love? Sometimes, they entail sacrifices on our part but we do not know it because the sacrifices are not seen as difficulties but acts of love. Consider a suitor trying to win his love's affection. How far would he travel just to see the one he loves. He does not think the trouble of traveling as sacrifice or hardship. Instead, he sees the beloved waiting at the end of the trip.
If somebody says “I love you” and does not follow through with loving acts, can the subject of his 'love' honestly say that he/she is loved? How would a supposed love relationship be if there are no loving acts shown by the parties? It is not just the physical affection, but all other deeds that, taken together, show love, e.g., a father playing with his young children after a hard day's work, a brother sharing his toy to his sibling, a wife listening to her husband, a poor widow giving her last two cents in the donation box, etc.
Our relationship with God requires nothing less. When we say we love God, we need to show it. Doing good works, for the love of God, is the way to show it. For this purpose, one has a choice among the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, e.g., visiting the sick, praying for others, etc.
One more word about good works – they fill the space left empty by fasting. With fasting, we remove something from our life. The resulting space should now be filled by something worthwhile lest something worse than that which was removed takes its place. For example, when one gives up mindless web surfing during Lent, that freed time should be used for something useful such as spending more time with family members.
Prayer. Communication is key to all loving relationships. Prayer is the way we communicate with God. Many saints have considered a sigh, or a look directed at Heaven as prayer. There are those too who considered work (honorable work) as prayer. There are many, many ways to pray. I suppose the key is keeping God in one's thoughts and heart constantly and doing everything with consideration of what God's love desires for us.
Because I need a seventh entry to make this post a 7 Quick Takes Post, let me close with this quote from St. PAul of the Cross -
'"The true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth." (John iv. 23.) Note these words well, because they contain all the elements of prayer; its perfection consists not in the joys and sensible delights which it may produce, but in the spirit- that is, in a true, pure, and simple nakedness and poverty of spirit, detached from all sensible consolation, so that the spirit reposes, purely and simply, in the infinite Spirit of God. Our Lord adds: "and in truth " - that is to say, we must have a full consciousness of our nothingness, so as not to rob God of one iota of His glory.'
Peace of soul comes to those with the right kind of anxiety about attaining perfect happiness, which is God. A soul has anxiety because it final and eternal state is not yet decided, it is still and always at the crossroads of life. This fundamental anxiety cannot be cured by a surrender to passions and instincts; the basic cause of our anxiety is a restlessness within time that comes because we are made for eternity.
If there were anywhere on earth a resting place other than God, we may be very sure that the human soul in its long history would have found it before this. ~ Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen