Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We are beginning the first week of Lent, a seven-week season of 40 days which coincides with springtime, the rebirth of nature and new life which we will see all around us. In this sacred time, the Church also desires that each of us grow spiritually and experience a renewal of our relationship with God. For some of us, it may be an invitation to reawaken that relationship from a state of dormancy or stagnation. No matter where we each find ourselves in the spiritual journey, Lent offers us an opportunity to rekindle our love for God, appreciate more deeply His mercy, and grow in holiness.
Living the discipline of Lent generally involves the strong desire for a fresh start with a clean slate, which marks a new beginning of a life lived in conformity with God’s plan. Like the catechumens who are 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 God’s grace. In response to this season, many Christians will take on different Lenten practices. Catholics, for examples, are called to fast and abstain. In doing so, we need to examine how a particular practice would help us 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. If not, then our fasting from food and drink will be a mere diet and our almsgiving will be merely giving money away.
This holy season, however, is much more than a just a time for penitential fasting and abstaining; it is also a time of joyous feasting as well—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:
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 bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that sustains.
Fast from instant gratifications; feast on self-denial.
Fast from worry; feast on divine providence.
And finally, fast from sin; feast on the abundance of God’s mercy.
In his message for Lent, Pope Francis reminds us: “In this season of grace, we once again turn our eyes to God’s 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.” Understood in this way, Lent can be a liberating experience for all of us. It can free us from attitudes and behaviors that are not life-giving and help reorient us toward those that will ensure our growth into the person that God calls us to be—the person of the Resurrection.
With the assurance of my prayerful remembrance each day at the Altar, I wish you and your family a holy and transformative Lenten season.
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham