The readings today mark the first Sunday of Lent. Every lent is a new beginning; sometimes beginnings are welcomed, other times half and half. We welcome Lent as a time to make our faith fresh, a preparation for and a reinforcement of our ongoing struggles to resist the temptations we face in our lives. We know from other Lents that it’s hard to keep going, and it’s for a long time.
The focus of Lent is not on what we have to give up but on what we are given. We focus our minds on the self-giving love of Jesus. Lent pours the grace of forgiveness into our world, needed individually and as a people. We need to know that God is bigger than any of our sins, wars, violence and hatred. God wants His kingdom to come. Lent is our time to say “yes” to a partnership with God in saving the world from the effects of evil and sin. It is a time for reconsidering our priorities both as Christians and human beings; a time to re-affirm our conviction of the equal dignity of every single human person.
Pope Francis has suggested 10 ways to observe Lent. He offers that we:
Get rid of the lazy addiction to evil – Lent is a powerful season, a turning point that can foster change and conversion in each of us. We all need to improve, leave behind old habits, change for the better.
Do something that hurts – We would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. At first it’ll hurt to give up our favourite TV time, but if it’s used to sit and talk to a spouse or play a game with your child, it is worth it.
Don’t remain indifferent – Indifference to our neighbour and to God also represents a real temptation. We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, not realizing a need to help others as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. We cannot remain indifferent.
Pray: Make our hearts like yours – During Lent let us all ask the Lord to “make our hearts like yours” in order to receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart not closed to others.
Take part in the sacraments – When we hear the Word of God and receive the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, we become what we receive: the Body of Christ.
Prayer – In the face of so many wounds that hurt us and could harden our hearts, we are called to take time to pray, a more intense prayer, take on the needs of the brethren and for the many situations of poverty and suffering.
Fasting – Fasting makes sense if it questions our security, if it also leads to some benefit for others, if it helps us to cultivate the style of the Good Samaritan who bends down to his brother in need and takes care of him.
Almsgiving – Almsgiving helps us to experience giving freely, which leads to freedom from obsession of possessing, from the fear of losing what we have, from the sadness of one who does not wish to share his wealth with others.
Help the poor – In the poor and outcast, we see Christ’s face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ. Our efforts should also be directed to ending violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world, for these are so often the cause of destitution.
Evangelize – We can “evangelize” by sharing precious time with the lonely, by consoling broken hearts and offering hope to our brothers and sisters experiencing darkness.
Probably we won’t be able to take huge steps forward in all the areas suggested by our Pope. Instead we can each pick a couple that stand out to each of us and try to find practical ways to grow in our love of God and of our neighbour during this time of Lent and therefore always.