Lent is a call to renew a commitment grown dull, perhaps, by a life more marked by routine than by reflection. After a lifetime of mundane regularity or unconsidered adherence to the trappings of faith, Lent requires me, as a Christian, to stop for awhile, to reflect again on what is going on in me. I am challenged again to decide whether I, myself, do truly believe that Jesus is the Christ – and if I believe, whether I will live accordingly when I can no longer hear the song of angels in my life and the star of Bethlehem has grown dim for me.
Whatever the theological impulse that drives the practice [of fasting] in Christian history, the truth is that the asceticism of fasting is common to every major religious tradition because it exposes to seekers the distance between self-control and the compulsion to self-satisfaction. There is nothing like a touch of voluntary hunger – the unsatisfied compulsion to seek comfort food, to bask in self-indulgence, to demand constant physical fulfillment – to give an edge to the capacity for spiritual concentration. Acuity of soul and consciousness of a life beyond the material come more easily when the material is not allowed to smother us. Lent enables us to face ourselves, to see the weak places, to touch the wounds in our own soul, and to determine to try once more to live beyond our lowest aspirations.
Having conquered our impulses for the immediate, having tamed our desires for the physical, perhaps we will be able to bring ourselves to rise above the greed that consumes us. Maybe we will be able to control the anger that is a veil between us and the face of God. Perhaps we will have reason now to foreswear the pride that is a barrier to growth. Possibly we will learn to foreswear the lust that denies us the freeing grace of simplicity. Maybe we will even find the energy to fight the sloth that deters us from making spiritual progress, the gluttony that ties us to our bellies, and the envy that makes it possible for us to be joyful givers of the gifts we have been given.
Lent is the period in which, learning to abstain from adoring at the shrine of the self, we come to see beyond the divinity we have made of ourselves to the divine will for all the world.
– Sister Joan Chittister in The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life, in the chapter, “Lent: A Symphony in Three Parts”
Other posts in this Lent series: