By Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD
Many Christians throughout the world observe the season of Lent as a time of renewal, sacrifice and simplicity. It is a time to walk with Christ on his way to Jerusalem where he died and was raised from the dead for our salvation. By suffering and dying with him, we will have a deeper understanding of his great love and be transformed by that love. So, Lent is more than losing the extra pounds or eating fish on Fridays. It is a time of more intense prayer, fasting, almsgiving, Scripture reading, making a good confession. By using those sacramentals, we see more clearly that without a loving relationship with God, we remain dust; in a relationship with God we experience his love and why he took on our humanity.
St. Athanasius put it this way: “becoming by grace what God is by nature.” If we follow the practices of Lent, we will be more transformed into the likeness of Christ, who is love.
Let us now look briefly at the elements of Lent that will help us to become more like Christ.
In the Gospels during Lent we see Jesus teaching, healing and casting out demons. In the midst of addressing the many needs of the marginalized and poor, he stops to pray. He leaves the crowds and spends time in prayer and intimate union with his heavenly Father. Sometimes the crowds would discover him at prayer. In our own lives, we can become so busy with our daily activities that we put aside prayer, even omitting celebration of the Sunday Eucharist with the Christian community. Daily activities take over our lives unless we make time to nourish our spiritual lives, which is the ground of our being. I encourage all of us to make time for God during Lent.
On the first Sunday of Lent we see Jesus in the desert, fasting and praying. It was while he was fasting that Satan tried to tempt him. Satan thought Jesus was at his weakest – no food, no water. However, it was precisely to combat Satan that Jesus fasted. Fasting, along with prayer, disciplines our desires and directs them away from self-fulfillment to fulfillment in Christ. Desires are good, but they must be disciplined; otherwise they will destroy us. The deepest desire is not for food, pleasure, power and glory, but for God. Only God can fulfill our greatest desire for love. Satan tempts us by leading us to believe that satisfying the immediate need will fulfill us. Sure, Jesus could have turned the rocks into bread, but that would have been only temporary. In response, Jesus said to Satan, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by the very word that comes from the mouth of God.” The common practice of fasting is from our favorite food; however, one might consider fasting from sinful behaviors, such as gossip, lying, cheating, abuse of alcohol or drugs, anger and rage, texting messages which harm the reputation of another, drinking and then driving, viewing pornography, etc.
By giving alms (donations for the poor) more often and more generously during Lent, we are freed from worldly goods. There is always the danger of becoming possessed by our possessions. As we give alms during this Lent, pray the prayer of St. Ignatius: “Take O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me. I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.”
4. Scripture reading
During his temptation by Satan in the desert, Jesus did not fight Satan with sophisticated arguments but by simply quoting the Scriptures, which had become so much a part of Jesus’ life. When Satan took Jesus up the mountain and showed him the kingdoms of the world (power, pleasure, glory and honor) and asked Jesus to prostrate and worship him, Jesus said, “Get away Satan, it is written, ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” Spend time reading more Scripture this Lent, especially the Gospels.
In the Old, as well as the New, Testament there are numerous examples of God forgiving the sinner. When King David committed adultery, lied and caused the death of an innocent man, God forgave him. The prophet Nathan confronted David about his sins. David’s response is found in Ps. 51: “I know my offense; my sin is always before me.” In the New Testament when the paralytic was lowered through the roof of a house and placed at his feet,