"LENT IS HERE AGAIN" we may say to ourselves. A time for penance, self-denial. We begin to feel a desire to renew ourselves, and feel inevitably guilty when we fail to live up to our promises!
If we just look on Lent as a time to "give up things" and "do without", it will of course produce negative reactions and at times prove too difficult to master.
But if we try to see Lent as a time of grace, an opportunity to renew our lives and become closer to Jesus the positive aspect emerges and it can be seen more as a challenge as we strive to overcome the darkness in our lives which is sin.
Fasting with prayer is a powerful way of overcoming sin and evil. It is unfortunate that the practise of fasting has declined and has almost disappeared in recent years amongst Christian churches. However, there is a renewal within the people of God at present which has re-discovered the meaning and importance of fasting.
It is a basic physical and spiritual need which produces an interior conversion — not just an exterior act. "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matt. 4).
As fasting and penance goes against human nature it is not easy and there are obvious difficulties in commiting oneself to it and also in persevering.
It is obviously not easy to fast or do without and I have made many failed attempts. But I feel it is worth persevering with. It takes practise! One has to find out what sort of fast suits them — one cannot be too rigid about being on fluids only, or just bread and water.
Though the latter is highly recommended in recent times, particularly as a result of the messages of Medjugorje. I have found that the best way for me to make a real effort in fasting is to focus on the Lord not on myself!
It is possible to feel joy in fasting! As the body denies itself and becomes more "empty" one is much more susceptible to experience the Lord more deeply and consequently feel His joy and peace.
Such an awareness also heightens the mind and spirit which draws a person to desire to pray more. As St Matthew's gospel quotes Jesus as saying: "When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they pull long faces to let me know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward" (6.16).
Fasting and prayer gives wonderful opportunities for grace, a new beginning. It can be very closely linked with the paschal mystery (dying with Christ in order to experience his resurrection).
The suffering and difficulties one experiences in fasting and penance helps one to identify more closely with the suffering Christ and also with suffering humanity. I know I can identify more closely with my brother and sister in need when I feel the pangs of doing without!
The _ most important aspect and meaning of denying ourselves during Lent is so as the joy and freedom of the resurrection can become a lived experience for us, and give us a foretaste of the eternal joys of life everlasting.
"If we have died with Christ we can also rise with him," Without this hope there is no meaning in self-denial in Lent. Maybe if we begin by really anticipating the hope that Jesus offers us we have a good starting-point in fasting and prayer!