On faith: Giving time to Lent
By: Friar Michael Lyons, Pastor, Holy Spirit Two Harbors and St. Mary's Silver Bay, Lake County News Chronicle
Lent has arrived and with it, the promise of Easter and spring. Traditionally, Lent is a period of forty days when many Christians take seriously the invitation to perform acts of penitence in order to spiritually prepare for the celebration of Easter.
In the early Church, Lent was a time for new converts to be instructed for baptism and for believers caught in serious sin, to focus on the call of the Gospel to repentance. Ever since, penitential practices have been seen as a way to inspire a deeper and fuller conversion of our lives to the Lord.
The traditional forms of Lenten penitence include those mentioned by Jesus in Matthew’s gospel -- prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Over time, these have taken on additional and different forms. Watching less television and giving more time to prayer and spiritual reading are just some examples. Jesus cautions us, however, against doing anything for show. Pray in secret, he says. Keep your fasting joyful and your almsgiving discrete. And whatever the Father sees you do in secret will be rewarded.
Like the ashes which sign our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, the commitment to penitence can be short-lived. Our lives may be overly full as it is. I am convinced however, that everyone can weave moments of spiritual awareness into the busiest of daily schedules. The trick is to view Lenten practice as part of, rather than in addition to, each activity of our usual daily schedule.
If you make a habit of saying a little prayer whenever someone irritates you, cuts you off in traffic, or makes your life difficult, you will soon find yourself praying your way through each day. Try this simple practice and you will find it will make your life flow more smoothly and help you be more centered. You will also find yourself more aware of God’s presence.
There are many ways to fast other than giving up a favorite food. Why not fast from criticism, gossip, judging others, or repeating rumors? Why not abstain from unwarranted fear and anxiety? You can also tell that self-critical inner voice inside your head, to abstain from eroding your ability to be the confident, blessed person you already are. How about fasting from two much texting, in favor of taking time for face to face conversations?
Daily life also offers many opportunities to give of yourself to others (alms), and most don’t involve dipping into your wallet. Give encouragement to the doubting, give a word of praise to the insecure, and show kindness to someone who could use a friend. Offer a word of thanks to those whose service to others often goes unappreciated. Don’t forget to support the work of your Church and that of various charitable organizations in this community and elsewhere. The Neighbor to Neighbor store, a ministry of the Two Harbors Ministerial Association, is a good example of an organization worthy of support.
Whatever our personal preferences, for me Lent is less about “giving up” and more about “looking up” at Jesus on the Cross. As I do so, I am vividly reminded of the reason for penitential practices in the first place. They help deepen my appreciation of the gift of salvation already received in the suffering and death of Jesus.
As we pray weekly at each station of the Way of the Cross: “Lord by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.”
Everything must be seen through the lens of that awesome grace.