Tomorrow we walk with our Lord in His 40 days in the wilderness, preparing ourselves for Easter. It is a time of reflection, self denial and drawing closer to God. To help us toward that end the Church calls on us to fast, pray and give alms.
There are a couple of reasons for fasting. First is for humility. Ps 59:10. Self denial is a form of humbling ourselves because it is a way of saying we don’t get whatever we want. In combining prayer with fasting we are declaring our utter reliance upon God just as Jesus told Satan in the wilderness. ” Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Second, fasting redirects our energies which we can orient toward the Lord. Someone who has difficulty finding time to read Scripture or pray, if they will fast from TV or video games, will be amazed at how much time they really do have.
Most will engage in a form of fast during these 40 days where we deny ourselves something that remains in front of our attention, usually something we really enjoy. Unless you live in Alaska, giving up polar bear meat is not a challenge. It’s not to be masochistic rather it is to have an impact. But for fasting to have its maximum value it must be more than simply taking away. If I spend 40 days missing chocolate, and can only think of when I can eat it again after Easter, then I have not gained much spiritually. But if I will add a spiritual discipline to my fasting that will make a difference. So if every time I find myself missing chocolate, I engage in intercessory prayer for others, then good things will happen.
We can also connect the fast to giving alms. This aspect of Lent is important because it focuses us on the needs of others. Lent is not a self improvement course. It is a time to grow in the love of the Lord and His love calls us to care “for the least of these.” ( Mt 25). So if you fast from lunch during Lent, don’t put that money in your pocket. Save it and donate it to a charity like Food for the Poor or your local rescue shelter.
Above all our focus on Lent must be from the right perspective. The Scripture says that it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance (Rom2:4). As we meditate on His love and Christ’s sacrifice for us we will want to turn from things that deny that love. We will want to draw closer. This is NOT a time to open ourselves to condemnation because “there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus”. (Rom 8:1). It is the enemy of our souls that would fill us with hopelessness or discouragement. When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, He also offers us the grace to change.
So Lent, even though a sober time, is a time of going from glory to glory. We come to Him burdened and heavy laden with sin and failure. But instead of trying harder we yield ourselves to Him in new ways these 40 days and we find ourselves refreshed and uplifted by the victory of Easter as He makes all things new.