Lenten Reflections '13: Wk 1

During this Season of Lent we shall walk with Jesus in his desert experience (Mt. 4:1-11). He is led into the desert where he spends forty days and forty nights in fasting and prayer. Jesus overcomes the temptations with the strength he gained from his fasting and prayer. 

Consider your own struggles with temptations of various kinds. How do you respond to them? How often do you succumb to them? How often do you overcome them?
When we walk with Jesus, we unite ourselves to his struggle with the devil and to his victory over the devil. Our temptations become his temptations and in our effort to remain united to him, we reject Satan and choose the life of holiness. The Church offers us ways and means to improve our self-discipline and conquer the self-centeredness that makes us vulnerable to sin: fasting and abstinence, alms-giving, reconciliation services, faith formation events, spiritual reading materials, etc. For every Jesus Youth the six constants are a wonderful way of self-disciplining that can greatly help in our journey with Jesus during this Lent. 
Every meal and food item we give up for Lent, every sin we confess in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, every sacrifice of time that we make to add more prayer and spiritual reading to our daily life, and every other Lenten activity is a practice of self-denial that unites us to Jesus in the desert. Jesus fasted from food and other physical comforts before his battle with the devil, and this strategy strengthened him and prepared him for the ministry that followed. This is what Lent can do for us too.
Let us have a closer look at the three Lenten practices, namely, alms giving, prayer and fasting and how they can be means for growing in faith during this Year of Faith.
ALMSGIVING is a gift that we give to God in thanksgiving for his generosity towards us. Jesus describes two sorts of “rewards”: 1) the repayment received by the Pharisees and 2) the recompense given to those whose generosity is based on love. Those who give lovingly are friends of God, and since friends share freely with each other, they are generous with their time, their talents, their patience, their money, or whatever else God has given to them that others are in need of. Such love opens their hearts to receive more of God’s love. Almsgiving becomes growth in faith when we make sacrifices for the sake of loving others.
PRAYER can be motivated by a right attitude or a wrong attitude. Do we pray with pious words and make inappropriate gestures in order to get people’s approval? Do we recite formula prayers over and again to convince God to pay heed to us? Or is our prayer time truly an intimate time with one whom we cherish most? Prayer becomes growth in faith when we sacrifice our time for the sake of loving God. 
FASTING is valuable only if it helps us purify our souls. If we fast to make others think we are better people, it is worthless. Fasting originated in the Jewish community as a personal sacrifice on the Day of Atonement – the annual day for the forgiveness of sins, to express humility and repentance. Today fasting is recommended by the Church as a means of acquiring “mastery over our instincts and freedom of hearts” (CCC 2043). In other words, fasting helps us enter into deeper conversion. Fasting becomes means of growth in faith when we sacrifice our desires for self-centered pleasures, represented by the denial of our favourite food, for the sake of strengthening our resolve to become more like Christ. 
During the ‘Faith Conference 2013’ in Karnataka, someone asked, “isn’t the teaching of the Church contradicting the teaching of Christ on fasting as per the Gospel of Mt. 9:14-15; because, Jesus the “bridegroom” is with us every day in the Eucharist and in many other ways”. This would imply that Christians should never fast. Another related and interesting question raised during the same Conference was, how would the Church norm of abstaining from meat be applicable to the vegetarians or those who don’t really care for meat?
To understand what Jesus really says about fasting it is good to read the passage from Isaiah 58:1-9 as well. There are two reasons to fast: one is to deny ourselves something we value as an act of penance because of our sins, and the other is to provide to others something they value, as an act of love because of our holiness. Fasting as a penance for our sins is beneficial. However, doing good deeds for others as an act of love accomplishes much more than we gain by fasting from a good meal, good candy, or good fun. Our sacrifices for Lent should benefit others, not just ourselves. 
Walking with Jesus in his desert experience would mean that we fast the way he fasted. His Lenten practice began when he went into the desert and resisted Satan’s temptations. Afterward, he gave up his old life style for a new life style of service. He gave up the comfort and familiarity of remaining in his own home. He gave up a good reputation when the persecutions began. He gave up his time in order to feed those who were hungry for his teachings. He gave up his own will when the Father asked him to do what he did not want to do. Ultimately Jesus gave up his own life for love of us.
There is a great need in all of us to improve our self-discipline and overcome selfishness by practicing self-denial. No wonder the Church asks us to fast and abstain. Just like Jesus who fasted from food and other physical comforts to overcome his temptations in the desert, we too should definitely fast to improve our self-discipline. But remember the kind of fasting that God desires from us is proactive and not reactive. Doing good to others is a spiritual discipline that purifies us, increases the flow of love, and overcomes our selfishness without anyone getting hurt.
Let everything we do during this Lenten Season increase our FAITH and make our goal the LOVE of God and our neighbour. Thus our walk with Jesus in his desert experience will strengthen us and fill us with HOPE during our desert experience. Wish you all a very fruitful Season of Lent!
Church directives regarding the Days of Penance (Can. 1249 - 1253)
1.  By divine law all the faithful are bound to do penance.
2.  The ecclesiastical law on penance, now in force, gives mainly the following norms:
i.   The days and times of penance for the Universal Church are each Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent
ii.  Abstinence from meat or from some other food determined by the Episcopal Conference to be observed on all Fridays unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and Fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
3.  By the Law of abstinence are bound all those who have completed the age of 14. 
The Law of fast obliges only those who have attained majority (i.e. completed 18 years) and have not yet began the 60th year.
Fr. Bitaju Puthenpurackal, O.SS.T
Jesus Youth International Pastor