March 2, 2012


Lent is a time to discover true joy

"A selfish faith would be an unreal faith. Whoever believes in Jesus Christ and enters into the dynamic of love that finds its source in the Eucharist discovers true joy and becomes capable in turn of living according to the logic of this gift. True faith is illumined by love and leads toward love. … God is not isolation, but glorious and joyful love, spreading outward and radiant with light."
—Pope Benedict XVI

The Church gives us the season of Lent as a means to guide us in our search for lasting happiness. Far from being a dark and dreary penitential season, Lent is truly a time of joy-filled anticipation. It is intended to ready us for "the glorious and joyful love" that is still to come at Easter time.

The Lenten practices that we are invited to embrace during this holy season—prayer, fasting and almsgiving—are meant to strengthen us. As an athlete prepares for the events that will win him or her a crown of victory, we Christians discipline our minds, hearts and bodies in

anticipation of the Lord's victory over sin and death. We steel our souls in anticipation of the ecstasy to come—the exultant, overwhelming joy of Easter.

Why is Lent necessary? Why not simply bask in the Easter sun that we know dawned for us—once and for all—more than 2,000 years ago? Why deny ourselves the good things that we enjoy all year-round when Christ has given us everything we could hope for?

Lent is a time of self-denial. It is necessary to remind us that we are still called to repent, to change our ways of thinking and acting so that we can believe in, and be transformed by, the Good News of our Savior Jesus Christ. Lent is needed to keep us spiritually fit.

Lenten observances prepare us for the evangelizing mission that the Risen Lord gave to us, his disciples, just before he ascended into heaven to sit at his Father's right hand. Lent prepares us for the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes as a consequence of the Lord's Passion, death and resurrection.

We need Lent because we never want to take for granted "the glorious and joyful love, spreading outward and radiant with light" that the Holy Father tells us is God's gift of himself freely given to us through Jesus' supreme sacrifice on the Cross.

We need Lent for the same reason that we need the sacrament of penance. We are sinners who need to be cleansed and healed before we are truly able to experience God's forgiveness in the holy Eucharist and in the Easter mystery.

What are the three main disciplines we are called to observe during Lent? Prayer, fasting and almsgiving—generous sharing.

The Church urges us to pray more fervently during Lent. She invites us to come to know and love our Savior more intimately and completely. We Christians believe that the fullness of joy comes in communion with God. Prayer now helps to prepare us for the intense joy of Easter and the eternal happiness of heaven.

Prayer also helps us to learn patience, perseverance and the ability to accept suffering in whatever forms it takes. We are called to follow Jesus, and his way leads through bitter suffering and cruel death to Easter joy.

The Church asks us to fast during Lent. She reminds us, in the words of Pope Benedict, that "a selfish faith would be an unreal faith." To be genuinely happy, we must first learn to be unselfish, deny ourselves, and live for God and for all our sisters and brothers. The things we deny ourselves during Lent are sacramentals. They remind us of, and help prepare us for, the much larger sacrifices that are required of us as disciples and martyrs called to witness to the Way of the Cross.

Finally, the Church challenges us to be generous stewards of all God's gifts. Stewardship is not seasonal. It places demands on us all year long—and our whole lives. The tradition of Lenten almsgiving provides us with an opportunity to practice the virtue of stewardship, and to make a conscious effort to share with others the gifts of time, talent and money that God has so generously given to us. Stewardship is a virtue that has to be put into practice—one generous act at a time!

Do you want to be happy? Pray, fast and give to others. Do you want to find perfect joy? Journey through Lent to Easter, and your joy will be complete!

—Daniel Conway

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