WHAT IS LENT
Lent is the liturgical season that starts from Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday. We are familiar with the Spanish cuaresma, referring to the 40 (cuarenta) days of this season. The word liturgy refers to the public worship or “collective formulas for the conduct of divine service in Christian churches.” Lent is short for Lenten, from the old English lencten, referring to the season of spring.
After the bleak desolation of winter, the new life that comes with spring is a timely and fitting invitation on Ash Wednesday to repent and believe the Good News. We are to turn away from our usual self-centered ways and be transformed by God’s goodness.
The first reading on Ash Wednesday exhorts us to tear our hearts, not just our garments (Joel 2:12-18). We are invited to look into the core of ourselves and turn away from our selfish ways. We do not just keep replaying our outward practices without changing ourselves and our attitudes in life. We are to get rid of the ways that keep us self-centered, so that we can care for others the way God cares for us.
The gospel text from Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18 on Ash Wednesday invites us to prayer, penance and almsgiving. Jesus denounces the hypocrites who perform righteous deed only for the sake of appearances. He invites us to real prayer: union with God and living out God’s ways: penance, struggling against self-centeredness and changing for the better, alms giving, making God real to us by caring for others.
The ancient reading of the first Friday of Lent from Isaiah 58 reminds that true fasting is not just a matter of sackcloth and ashes, but working for justice and truth, freeing the oppressed, feeding the hungry, and helping the poor. This is how God becomes real to us.
These scripture texts invite us to a faith that is authentic and true. The God of the Old Testament, the God of Jesus Christ is a God who is real and is experienced in our everyday life, in the way we live and in the way we deal with others. The God of our Judeo-Christian faith is a God who cares for people and wants what is just and right for all.
Justice is a recurring theme in the Psalms of the Old Testament. In the New Testament Joseph is the just and upright man. Yahweh is a God of justice, peace, love, and truth. God invites us to worship in spirit and in truth and to do what is right and just. Jesus reminded us of this in his many teachings.
CONFESSION AND RETREATS
Catholic Christian traditionally associate Lent with repentance and sacrifice. It is a time for confessions or retreats. We usually approach Lent and our Christian faith in terms of these seasonal activities. We are used to approaching God in terms of liturgical practices. We have not learned to approach God in our everyday lives. Realistically, we need to ask:
* How real is our faith in God?
* What kind of God do we believe in?
* What kind of prayers do we pray?
* Do we pray the way Jesus taught us how to pray? How real is Jesus in our daily lives?
* What influence does Jesus have in my everyday decisions and conduct?
* What are the fruits of our beliefs and practices on our personal, public, and political lives?
It can be helpful to continue the Lenten practice of attending retreats, because a real retreat is a time to review our ways and compare them with God’s ways. An authentic retreat is a time to assess the kind of faith we have and the kind of God we believe in, so that we can go back to the basics.. We need to see if our prayers truly teach us God’s ways and change us for the better.
Aside from discerning about the kind of God we believe in and the kind of prayers we have, we also need to review the kind of retreats we make, so that there is real repentance and conversion.
THE END OF LENT AND NEW LIFE
Easter and the Lenten season brings us back to our baptismal promises to live a new and transformed life with God. We renew our baptismal promises and publicly reject what is wrong and evil.
These are all beautiful practices and have deep meaning, but they become empty gestures if God’s Spirit and the fruits of love, truth, peace, and justice are not present. They remain an outer veneer that does not affect our self-centered ways. They become decoys that lull and deceive us, like counterfeit or imitation products that we mistake for the real thing. They are the chaff minus the grain.
True repentance is changing our ways. We must constantly remind ours selves of the opening theme of Ash Wednesday—to tear our hearts and not just our garments.
Salvador Wee, SJ