Season of grace
LENT is known as a Season of Penance but it is also a Season of Grace. Special grace is poured out by Jesus Christ to people to be converted and be closer to the Him. It is 40 days of Penance, Prayer and Almsgiving. This is why we aptly call it Kuwaresma.
In the Bible, 40 days or 40 years is a period of preparation. Hence the people journeyed for 40 years in the desert before they entered the Promised Land. Jesus too spent 40 days in the desert before he started his public ministry. 40 days and nights of rain cleansed the world of violence in the time of Noah to bring about a new creation. The prophet Elijah journeyed for 40 days to meet God on Mt Horeb as Moses fasted for 40 days before the Law was given to him on Sinai. Thus every year the Christian people pass through the 40 days of of lent to be renewed in preparation for the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter. In olden times the period of lent was a time of intense preparation for baptism which was administered on Easter. The catechumens participate in the suffering and death of Jesus in order to participate in his New Life in baptism. We die with Christ so that we may rise with him. This is the Christian life. Now for us who are already baptized, lent has become a season of intense purification so that we may fully share in the new life of the Resurrection.
The discipline of lent is spelled out by Penance, Prayer and Almsgiving. Penance means self-denial. We deny ourselves to gain more self-control and to free ourselves from the pull of sin. We heed the call of Jesus: “If you want to follow me, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” (Mk 8:34) This is done through fasting and abstinence. First, we abstain from sinful words, works and habits. Then we can fast from what we naturally crave, hence from food. Those who are 14 years old and above abstain from all meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of lent. Those who are 21 years old till 59 years old are asked to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, which means, to take only one full meal during those days. We can also include other forms of penance such as no chocolate or no coffee during the 40 days, or no television or no facebook, or even doing physical exercises during this period. The purpose is to say “no” to self so that we can say “yes” to God and to others. We say “yes” to God by praying more and intently during these days. It can mean reading the Bible, visiting the Blessed Sacrament, making the Way of the Cross, or praying the Rosary. We say “yes” to others by various works of charity, like the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Hence in lent we have Alay Kapwa, Fast to Feed, and more intense participation in Pondo ng Pinoy. Let us listen to what the Bible says: “The kind of fasting I want is this: 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)
The reception of the ash on Ash Wednesday means that we are ready to enter this special season of repentance. Hence one formula that is said as the ashes are being imposed is: “Repent and believe in the Good News.” Since Biblical times the ash on the head is a symbol of humility and penance. We are reminded of this by the other formula that is said over us: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Let us then enter into this season of grace with humility and a repentant heart.