episode of Martha and Mary shows. As an antidote, Jesus invites us to “come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). In the early centuries of the Church, men and women accepted this invitation quite literally and withdrew to a solitary life in the deserts of Egypt and Syria. From this began the Christian monastic tradition. While not all of us feel a call to become monks or hermits, there are many disciplines and practices we can all undertake to help us live this season of renewal to the full.
Lent means living exclusively with God. It means making a space for God in our life. Spend time reflecting on your own baptism. Read John 4:5-42, John 9:1-41 and John 11:1-45. Ask God to renew the gifts you have already received. Do something extra, like visiting the sick. Lent is a time of not only prayer, but also for fasting and alms deeds, which Augustine called “the wings of prayer” meaning, presumably, that without the fasting and alms deeds, our prayer remains earthbound and ineffective. It is good to have a charity box for each one of us. Earmark the money thus collected by fasting for philanthropic activities. See what kind of fasting God wants from us all. “Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear, and do not refuse to help your own relatives” (Isaiah 58: 6-7). This is not enough to fulfill a Lent. What is necessary is to have ‘repentance’.
When Jesus began his public life and preaching, his first message was not “Love one another” or even “Love your enemies”, it was “The kingdom of God is close at hand, Repent”( St. Mark 1:15). The English word ‘Penance’ is the translation of a Greek word ‘metanoia’. The root of penance is the Latin word ‘Peona’, meaning punishment, penalty, pain, grief. It is not surprising that Lent, time for penance, is not our favourite time of the year. Metanoia, however, does not mean punishment or pain: literally, it means a change of mind. So Lent is not meant to be a time for punishment and pain, but a time for changing our minds, changing our outlook and attitudes, a time for changing our hearts. This is vividly illustrated when Prophet Joel tells Israel, “Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn” (Joel 2:13).
Finally, apart from abstention of food and worldly pleasures, it is good to have ‘Mauna Vretham’ (Keeping silence all through the days of the Lent). Silence is not simply the absence of word or sound, but our profound sense of the presence of God that transcends all human logic, language and concept. It is in silence that we hear the transforming soft voice of God which is talking to us from the centre of our being. Silence helps a lot to listen to the pains and sufferings of other people and that of the creation. The silence of being, marked by constant prayer, continual repentance and abiding compassion for all creation, assumes the hidden role of roots that invisibly support and sustain the superstructure of Christian life. Silence is the backbone of the Christian monasticism which originated in the Egyptian deserts. The desert fathers, having constant contact with God in solitude, were being transformed in the likeness of God; they became persons of compassion and love. Silence makes man sensitive to hear soft voice from God. It is noticeable that Prophet Elijah, after the noisy wind, earthquake and fire, hear a soft voice from God. (I king 19:11-13). Sometimes, God may be talking to us from the centre of our being. But to hear it better, the stillness of our heart is necessary for it is written thus in Psalms 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God”. It is note worthy that King David even though he was very busy , used to wait for God in silence(Psalms 62:1) One who practices silence can respond creatively to the delicate issues one faces daily.
The keen observance of Lent is good not only for one’s spiritual edification but it has got a vital role to play in the purification of one’s physical body which in turn gives a restorative effect. Lent is, of course, a deadly weapon used against the devil and to ward off all evils from one’s life. But a mechanical observance of lent is, undoubtedly, meaningless and useless.
May God give us strength and enthusiasm to observe this mandatory Lent without failure!
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