When we do something often, like driving, we become more and more familiar with it. This is one of the reasons that new drivers get in more accidents than experienced drivers. New drivers have to pay more attention to what they’re doing because experienced drivers have trained themselves to do these things almost automatically. It reaches a point where we become so familiar with something that we actually stop paying attention to it; like when you miss your turn because the route you’re taking is so familiar that you automatically start driving home instead of where you meant to go. Food can be like that, too, and music, and even relationships with other people. We become so familiar with them that we’re not really paying attention to them, because we think we know them already.
Religion, our relationship with God, is the same. The more familiar we become with Mass, prayer, and the faith, the more depths we see in it, but if we’re not careful we might stop paying real attention to God. Lent is a time to remind ourselves to pay attention. We do this by rededicating ourselves to fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Through fasting we step back from the good things of this world and deny our passions. Fasting shows that we love God more than the good things that He gives us and allows us to focus on God Himself without distractions. We then turn to prayer to grow closer to the Lord, especially by meditating on the Passion and Crucifixion of the Lord. Prayer and fasting should lead us to almsgiving and acts of charity to stir up our love for God and neighbor.
Catholics from 18 to 59 years old fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We fast by having only one normal-sized meal throughout the day and two snacks that together don’t equal a full meal, liquids are not restricted, and those whose health prohibits them from doing this are excused. Catholics aged 14 and older abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent, and abstain from a food of their choice on all Fridays, unless a solemnity falls on a Friday. Many Catholics also choose some other penance to do during Lent. Our fast is an offering to the Lord. So, we don’t fast from sinful things because we shouldn’t be doing those things anyway. We fast from good things to make a worthy offering to the Lord. Then, our fasting can lead us to repentance, prayer, and almsgiving.
The key to having a good Lent, to really renewing our spiritual lives and relationship with God, is the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion. The prayer and fasting of Lent ought to remind us of how our sins have damaged our relationship with God. Through confession our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled with the Lord, and in the Eucharist we encounter God Himself. Our prayers, fasting, and almsgiving should be inspired by the sacraments and lead us back to the sacraments.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.