For those who are not Christian, Lent can be a bit of a mystery. For some other people, Lent is a period of going on a diet to lose some pounds. For others, it is when their weird Catholic co-workers and friends show up to work and school with ashes on their foreheads, when fast food restaurants start selling fish sandwiches. Listening to the prayers in the Liturgy, we clearly see the liturgical prayers referring to this time of Lent as a joyful season. How is Lent a Joyful Season? I am accustomed to hearing that Lent is a season of soul-searching and repentance. My family taught me that it is a period for reflection, self-denial, spiritual growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity.
Last year, I heard liturgical prayers during mass that said: “Lord, each year You give us this joyful season.” I started to think to myself: How is Lent joyful? Is this a joke? Lent was passing by and I could not see any joy about fasting, abstinence, and all those things that we usually do during Lent. I was struggling to understand and live the Lenten Season in its fullness.
“This season of grace is your gift to your family to renew us in Spirit.” Hearing this liturgical prayer, I did not really know how, but all things inside of my head started to make sense. I suddenly realized that the joy Lent brings is a true joy, purifying and renewing our lives and souls. During Mass I heard: “Lord, You give us strength to purify our hearts.” Do I have this desire for purification? I saw that I did not really have it, but I knew that with all my questions and reflection, I was slowly entering into a spiritual journey of forty days with the Lord.
Concretely, in what way does this renewal of the Spirit work? I found myself, during those forty days, growing in freedom and love while purifying my heart and desires, so as to serve the Lord in freedom. A week and a half later, I realized that we are often unaware of our attachments, and we are not completely free. By giving up things during Lent, we discover our attachments and can become free of them. I realized that freedom is not the goal in itself; it can be a temptation to pride. Freedom is only the condition that makes us able to love.
The question is, “What is my heart attached to?” The goal is to attach ourselves to God alone. “Through our observance of Lent, we raise our minds to the Lord.” If we choose to fast and renounce earthly pleasures, we choose to say to the Lord, “You are my only joy.” And we finally come to give up earthly joy to experience the joy of the Lord.
Jesus spent forty days into the desert, and during this Lent He is inviting us to be in the desert with Him. It is in the desert we encounter the Lord. In the emptiness of every joy, the Lord can be our only joy. Lent always led renunciation so I may be alone with the Lord to experience His Love. His love is all that fills me. If we really live Lent, we will experience more of the Lord.
Renunciation diminishes our selfishness and opens our hearts to the poor. God’s mercy urges us to share our bread and the love that we receive from Jesus Christ with the poor. If I am free from myself, I am more able to give myself to the others. The renunciation allows me the inner-freedom to pray. Fasting becomes an amplifier of prayer and charity.
The time of Lent is a time of conversion. By fasting, Jesus conquered sin and gave us the strength and will to grow in holiness. During Lent, I decided that I would drink water in order to drink wisdom and would eat with limits in order to love without limits. The renewal that can occur in us during Lent is not our work, it is the work of the Lord. Our task is to desire this renewal. If the Lord sees our little efforts in fasting and renouncement, He will bless them and multiply them.
I love to think about St. Therese of Lisieux, who is the Little Flower of Jesus. She believed she could not climb the stairs to holiness so she asked God to carry her up. If the Lord sees that there is a true desire in our hearts, He will renew us in abundance. Being honest with myself and with God is one of my goals in life. This Lenten time will help myself to integrate who I am and what I believe in and will finally lead me to holiness and perfect joy, not only during this season, but a joy that will last forever.