Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Merry Lent?

I believe that the whole idea that we should not have enjoyment in Lent is somewhat strange. Lent is a time when we prepare ourselves for Easter. It is true that we have to do penance and pray. We fast, pray and give alms (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18; Ash Wednesday's Gospel). Can we not enjoy prayer? Can not prayer give us joy?

Lent is not a time to deprive ourselves of joy so that Easter would be a joy-filled celebration. Far from it! Lent is a time of grace.

As I was typing this, I typed a ‘v’ instead of a ‘c’ and got the word grave instead of grace. It's just one letter away (in two ways – difference of one letter, and on the computer keyboard) for one to become another. It is also just a slight shift in attitudes to change Lent from graced to grave.

God's grace ultimately gives us His joy. God's grace is one that gives hope. What we should not do is to confuse joy with frivolity. I see fasting not as depriving me of food but as presenting me an opportunity to meditate and pray. It is a biological fact that after eating, blood flow in the alimentary canal increases as digestion and absorption of food occurs. This is why we tend to be sleepy after a meal. When I decide to fast, I can spend the time that was going to be spent eating with God. At the same time, because there is no increased blood flow to the gut, I should be more alert and can focus on the prayer. Of course one may say that the hunger could be a distraction. This is true if one has been fasting for quite a while. If we have had enough to eat for breakfast, we shouldn't be feeling weak during lunch. We may feel the urge to eat (in other words, hunger) but we should not be suffering from extreme effects. The traditional Catholic way of fasting was to take one main meal and two small meals or collations. Although encouraged to go beyond this, Catholics should not end up physically harming their bodies. The idea of excess can go both ways, and both can be spiritually harmful.

Being solemn should not be mistaken for being gloomy. There are two meanings for solemn: ‘not cheerful, not smiling’ and ‘deeply sincere’. I suggest that a solemn Lent describes a Lent filled with sincerity. The focus in Lent should not be one that simply leads to not cheerful.We should be sincere in seeking the grace God offers us in Lent and we would be filled with joy. A sincere Lent is one that is enjoyable.

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