We have entered into the season of Lent, a season of grace. The Lord invites us to enter into a very powerful period in the liturgical year in the church. On Ash Wednesday, the Prophet Joel gave us these words of encouragement: “Even now, return to me (the Lord) with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning: Rend your hearts, not your garments … for gracious and merciful is he” (Jl 2:12-13).
The invitation has been extended — return to me and rend your hearts. In other words, tear open our hearts and seek the merciful love of the Father. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, encouraged, “In this season of grace, we once again turn our eyes to his mercy. Lent is a path: it leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God’s children.”
Jesus presented to us the activity of the Lenten season, something far beyond the externals of the scribes and pharisees. Our Lenten activity must be rooted in an attitude of the heart, the interior place of our souls, that inner sanctuary of our relationship with Christ. “Rend your heart.” This is where true conversion takes place, where Christ’s heart and our hearts come together in a quite intentional way for us.
Like those coming into the Church at Easter, all of us are called to be converts, to be looking at our lives and our sinfulness in the light of grace, the light of God’s grace. In response to this season, many people will take on different Lenten practices. Whatever disciplines of Lent we embrace, we do it joyfully in order to thank God for his mercy and to open ourselves more to God’s overflowing life that surrounds us each moment. Our efforts to change and to grow in holiness are not made to earn God’s saving love for us. Rather, they are a consequence of it. I can’t imagine what life would be like without the love and mercy of the Father, whose mercy never tires of forgiving us and always gives us the chance to begin anew.
In this season we are called to fast and abstain. In this culture of excess, it seems easy to give some things up for a few weeks. In doing so, how is this or that practice helping me to become more prayerful, more generous, more holy? Our Lenten practices will only lead to conversion and life in abundance if they are connected to our relationship with Christ — Jesus leading us through conversion. If not, then our fasting from food and drink will be a mere diet and our almsgiving will be merely giving money away.
But Lent can also be more than a just a time for fasting. It should also be a joyous season of feasting — a time to fast from certain things and to feast on others. Perhaps you will find these suggestions I came across many years ago helpful. It was written by William Arthur Ward.
Lenten Litany of Fasting and Feasting
Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ within them.
Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the unity of life.
Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility; feast on non-resistance.
Fast from bitterness; east on forgiveness.
Fast from self concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion; feast on truth.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from shadows of sorrow; feast on the sunlight of sincerity.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that undergirds.
Fast from instant gratifications; feast on self denial.
Fast from worry; feast on divine order.
Trust in God.
And finally, fast from sin; feast on the abundance of God’s mercy.
The joy in doing this type of fasting and feasting is that these practices truly lead to rending our hearts and to conversion. And this conversion is a turning from those things that do not give life and a turning to God, who gives life to us in abundance. As you keep your gaze on the Father’s love and mercy, may this season of Lent be filled with every grace and blessing.