Come back to Me
We began the season of Lent a few days ago. Lent is the liturgical season that prepares us for the celebration of Easter, the most important solemnity of the year. It is mainly a time of conversion, but it could also be classified as a time of grace and thanksgiving. It is a time of grace because in these "strong" times the Lord is giving us the opportunity to receive more graces. We remember the story in the Bible that speaks of the waters of the pool, that when it was stirred up, people came near because it was said that the first one to go in would be healed. We could say that the waters of grace are "stirred up" and it is an invitation to come running to receive the grace, allowing the Lord to work miracles of healing in our souls. It is a time of thanksgiving because we can only thank God for a new opportunity to draw closer to Him. The Church proposes three ways to draw closer to God and prepare ourselves for Easter: fasting, almsgiving, and penance.
Fasting helps us in two areas of our spiritual life. On one hand, it helps us because it trains the will to renounce good things so that it can, when necessary, reject bad things. On the other hand, it enables the soul to open itself in a particular way to the grace and presence of God by making the soul take more pleasure in the things of God.
By depriving ourselves of anything in connection with our appetites, we accustom our will to take orders not from our passions but directly from us. This leads us to be masters of ourselves.
And during Lent, why does the Church advise us in a special way to fast?
In the first reading on Ash Wednesday we heard the words of the book of Joel: "Proclaim a holy fast!" (Joel 1:14.) While it is true that Lenten penance is constituted not only by fasting, but also by prayer and almsgiving, at a time when a consumerist attitude reigns, we need a practice that helps us not to orient ourselves exclusively towards the possession and use of material goods alone, but to elevate our desires to something higher, directing our hearts towards God. Obviously it is not wrong in and of itself to have riches or to have things as long as one's heart is not inordinately attached to them. The problem arises when man provides material goods not only to serve him in order to develop useful activities, but to satisfy the senses, momentary pleasure and, of course, everything that leads away from God. Fasting means to abstain, that is, to renounce something. We can think that nowadays the contemporary man must not only fast from food or drink, but also from many other means of consumption, stimuli and sensory satisfaction.
This renunciation of sensations, stimuli, pleasures and also food and drink is not an end in itself. It must serve to create the conditions in man in order to live higher values, which he will discover he is truly hungry for. The hunger for food will help us to have and to realize that we are hungry for God. St. Peter Chrysologus wrote: "Fasting is peace of the body, strength of minds, vigor of souls." The Lord told us: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself [...] daily" (Lk 9:23). With fasting we renounce—we deny ourselves—something that we usually enjoy: food, drink, sweets, television programs, using our cell phone....
Fasting therefore greatly benefits the soul. It makes us humble, shows sorrow for sins, clears the way to God and helps us to distinguish His will. It is also a powerful method of prayer and a symbol of true conversion.
The Church unites the call to fasting with penance, that is, with conversion. It is necessary to detach ourselves from all that is useful only for consumerism and to become more sensitive to all that belongs to God. In this way, we will turn our hearts towards God. St. John of the Cross says that we cannot rise to God if we are attached to the things of this world. If we put our heart and our pleasure in the things of this world, when we lack them one day because of sickness, poverty, or age, we will become bitter and perhaps we will not find meaning in our life. However, if with the will we have been the master of our will and have followed Jesus with abnegation in spite of "lacking" the things of this world we will find consolation in God Himself.
There is one aspect of fasting that is important to remember. In the Gospel of St. Matthew when Jesus speaks of fasting, He says: "When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you." Yes, Jesus asks that our fasting not be noticed by men. I do not fast so that men will notice that I do things for God, but I do it because I know that it is what God asks of me. We also have to be careful that by fasting we do not become irritable and abrupt, but in spite of the hunger I may feel, I know how to control myself and "perfume" my face. We could see "perfume" here to mean the charity, the good smell of Christ. Let fasting be accompanied by charity, by a smile, by attention to the needs of others. There is a danger that by fasting and feeling empty, I turn my attention to myself and spend the day thinking about how hungry I am and about the next day when I will be able to eat. Therefore it is necessary to fill the day with ejaculatory prayers and acts of love: "Lord, help me," "Lord, thank you," "I love you, Jesus," "How happy I am to be able to suffer a little for you." Thus fasting is elevated, and becomes not only an act of not eating but is an act of love, of reparation, of conversion, and of true penance. Our fasting should not be a simple act of "doing what I should," but should come from the depths of my soul, from the deep desire to learn that in the end God alone is enough and that there is no carnal desire that equals the desire for the eternal.
Let us ask Our Lady to help us to live Lent this year differently from the others. May it not be another routine Lent but may we enter into the mystery we are about to celebrate and be filled with desires— which become acts— to correspond to God's great love for us.
God bless you