Lent is a time of renewal, of new life. In fact, as Pope Francis titled this year’s Lenten message: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem” (Mt 20:18) Lent: a Time for Renewing Faith, Hope and Love, Lent offers us this splendid opportunity to start afresh on our spiritual journey.
We need to be renewed in faith. The latter invites to to accept the truth and testify to it before God and all our brothers and sisters (no. 1). It is that truth which helps us opening our hearts to God’s word, which the Church passes on from generation to generation (no.1). The truth we are talking about is not philosophical, arid and far removed from everyday reality. It is not a truth that is especially addressed to the privileged few. On the contrary, the truth which Pope Francis is inviting us to embrace is one that centres on the heart. In other words, that truth which all of us can receive and understand thanks to the wisdom of a heart open to the grandeur of God, who loves us even before we are aware of it (no.1). The truth we Christians hold to is a person, Jesus Christ. In Jesus truth became one of us, dwelt amongst us, pitched its camp in the places we live. Pope Francis reminds us of this powerful and life saving fact when he wrote: By taking on our humanity, even to its very limits, he has made himself the way – demanding, yet open to all – that leads to the fullness of life (no.1).
The other means of fasting, experienced as a form of self-denial, (no.1) is intended to aid those who welcome this true with utmost simplicity so as to rediscover God’s gift and to recognize that, created in his image and likeness, we find our fulfillment in him (no. 1). This truth has espoused poverty to save us. Thus, in embracing the experience of poverty, those who fast make themselves poor with the poor and accumulate the treasure of a love both received and shared. Most of all, those who follow this truth let is change them in it by doing exactly what Jesus did: loving God with his mind, soul and might and loving his neighbour as Himself.
For that matter, fasting helps us go deeper into the dynamic of self-giving with which this truth is all about. Pope Francis tells us that in this way, fasting helps us to love God and our neighbour, inasmuch as love, as Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches, is a movement outwards that focuses our attention on others and considers them as one with ourselves (cf. Fratelli Tutti, 93) (no.1). For those who believe, fasting is a great blessing because it involves being freed from all that weighs us down – like consumerism or an excess of information, whether true or false – in order to open the doors of our hearts to the One who comes to us, poor in all things, yet “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14): the Son of God our Saviour (no.1).
If faith is the light for our journey hope is our drink. We encounter this telling image precisely in the Johannine Gospel, in the Samaritan woman’s account. There, when Jesus is asking her for a drink he is referring to the Holy Spirit whom he will give in abundance through the paschal mystery, bestowing a hope that does not disappoint (no.2). Jesus’ hope is the truth hope because it goes beyond our fallible human calculations enter God’s way of seeing things. Principally, as the Holy Father tells us, hope is receiving from his [Jesus’] open heart the Father’s forgiveness (no.2).
The hope Lent gives is one wherein we turn back to God who patiently continues to care for his creation which we have often mistreated (cf. Laudato Si’, 32-33; 43-44) (no.2). Hope also translates itself into reconciliation and forgiveness to others which is the result of the forgiveness we receive when we go to the sacrament of confession. “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). By receiving forgiveness in the sacrament that lies at the heart of our process of conversion, we in turn can spread forgiveness to others. Having received forgiveness ourselves, we can offer it through our willingness to enter into attentive dialogue with others and to give comfort to those experiencing sorrow and pain. God’s forgiveness, offered also through our words and actions, enables us to experience an Easter of fraternity (no.2). Finally hope is furthermore given through words of comfort and consolation we offer to each other. may we be increasingly concerned with “speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement, and not words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn” (Fratelli Tutti, 223). In order to give hope to others, it is sometimes enough simply to be kind, to be “willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference” (ibid., 224) (no.2).
The hope that is the result of the recollection and silent prayer, which offers to us both inspiration and internal light, should be made visible through love. The apex of love is concern and compassion for all (no.3). True love rejoices in seeing others grow. Hence it suffers when others are anguished, lonely, sick, homeless, despised or in need. Love is a leap of the heart; it brings us out of ourselves and creates bonds of sharing and communion (no.3). Love is social when it makes it possible to advance towards a civilization of love, to which all of us can feel called. With its impulse to universality, love is capable of building a new world (no.3). Lastly, love is a gift that gives meaning to our lives. It enables us to view those in need as members of our own family, as friends, brothers or sisters. A small amount, if given with love, never ends, but becomes a source of life and happiness (no.3).
As a conclusion, to experience Lent with love means caring for those who suffer or feel abandoned and fearful because of the Covid-19 pandemic (no.3). Let us not forget what Pope Francis teaches us in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti: Only a gaze transformed by charity can enable the dignity of others to be recognized and, as a consequence, the poor to be acknowledged and valued in their dignity, respected in their identity and culture, and thus truly integrated into society (Fratelli Tutti, 187).
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap