What do we immediately think of when we consider LENT? Giving up Something? But that’s only part of it.
Jesus teaches us that there are three essential parts we must participate in:
Why these three? Because they are the precise remedies for what is sometimes called the “unholy trinity”:
- Lust of the flesh
- Lust of the eyes
- The pride of life
FASTING attacks Lust of the Flesh: This is not just sexual. It has to do with pleasurable things. In themselves, there is nothing wrong with them, but we can develop a disordered attachment to them, and so we fast from them — We give up a thing that is in itself good in order to recognize the greatest good in our lives: Christ. We will see on Sunday, how Adam & Eve fell in the Garden because that forbidden fruit was: First: “Good for food”. The first temptation the devil threw at Jesus was turning stones into bread. To satisfy cravings. Jesus was in the desert for forty days. Forty has always been a number indicative of testing, of preparation. And Jesus was preparing for His itinerant ministry and ultimately His saving Passion and Death. So why deprive yourself? Why go through all that hardship? Because of the greater good: God. One saint, I think it was Teresa of Avila, kept a pear on her desk, but would never touch it. Some wondered about this seemingly bizarre behavior. But it shows us that we can come face to face with our cravings and master them, by our will, and the grace of God. After all, intellect will and memory are all what make us in the image and likeness of almighty God.
ALMSGIVING attacks the Lust of the Eyes: This is particularly acute when shopping. We in our consumer culture are always bombarded by ads that try to convince us that we would be better off if we waste our hard-earned money on some product or other. In the end, will we be better off? My guess is that ultimately we will end up pretty empty. This Lent, why not give to that charity that you’ve been putting off. St. Paul in our Second Reading reminds us, that now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. Don’t put it off any longer.
This can go for all three, but especially for …
PRAYER attacks the Pride of Life – which might be the most insidious, because it underlies the other two. If we find ourselves saying, “I want this and nothing will stop me from getting it!” or “I know it’s wrong, but I’ll do it anyway”. or, even, “I know the Church teaches that this is wrong, but I don’t consider this wrong.” That is the pride of life. That is this disordered self-love that puts ourselves in the place that only God should occupy. When we find that we consider ourselves our own god, then it’s time for some serious prayer. Read the Gospels, spend time before Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration. Realize in that silence that God is God, and we are not. Let God be God in our lives.
These are not simply suggestions, but Jesus Our Lord presumes that they are meant to be a regular part of our lives. Recall from our Gospel that Jesus said “When you pray”, not “If you pray”. He said, “When you fast”, not “If you happen to fast”, “When you give alms”, not “If you happen to think about it.”
Lent is a time for spiritual heavy-lifting. You know the feeling after a hard days work, that sense of exhaustion but also that sense of satisfaction of having accomplished something. During Lent, we are in the wilderness with Jesus. We are building up toward His Passion and Death on the Cross. When we come to that great day of Easter, that great Season of Easter, we don;’t want to look back and see how we haven’t done enough to get to that point.
There is no Easter Sunday without a Good Friday, and that journey starts today.