by Fr. George Hajj
Lent is the forty days journey, following the season of Epiphany (Baptism and Manifestation), in other words, the identity and mission of Jesus Christ and through him, his Mystical Body, the Church.
We fast during these forty days from midnight to midday as an act of faith, we abstain from meat and animal products, and from other luxuries. We are also to refrain from vices such as smoking, cursing, gossiping, etc.
Even though the general misconception is that Lent is about fasting only, it is actually so much more than that.
Lent is the epitome of spirituality. Lent prompts us to get in touch with our spiritual side; whether by intensifying prayer or reading Holy Scripture and contemplating the wonders of God’s creation. It is an opportunity to feed the soul and the heart and isolate oneself from the daily distractions and take a break from the chaos of the day to day life.
It brings out the good side of people. During these Forty Days, leading to the Passion and the Resurrection, we strive for virtue. Lent prompts us to help the less fortunate, forgive and make peace with friends or people we were on bad terms with, reach out to family members and relatives and to focus on purifying our hearts and intentions as the journey goes on.
Lent is all about peace and reconciliation. It is about being a better person; people do not only fast from food, they fast from any extreme emotions — anger, frustration, envy, and sadness. The main spirit of the journey is for people to focus on their relationship with God and strengthen the faith instead of letting their emotions take control of their lives.
It is a journey of healing. The spirit of Lent, the prayers, the kindness that people exude during this journey and the peace of mind that comes with the isolation from the daily routine really helps us tap into our sadness and heal ourselves. It’s building a connection with the Lord, away from the noise of people that drain us and jobs that wear us down. It completely shifts our mental and emotional state.
It helps us practice gratitude. Fasting makes us realize how much we take things like food and water for granted and gives us a taste of how some less fortunate people actually live; deprived from the simple things that we take for granted every day. It teaches us how to be compassionate and count our blessings instead of focusing on the things we don’t have.
It is also a journey of love. It is encouraged to gather large groups of friends and family in our parishes and live the highest summit of Love, which is the Divine Liturgy, partaking of the Body and Blood of God. It is a journey of reconciliation and reconnection, with each other and with the Lord.
It reflects life. Since Lent teaches us patience, humility, gratitude and self-control, if we reflect deeper, these are also the tools we need to live a good life. We often get carried away with our duties and our lives that we do not really take a moment to reflect on the point of it all. Lent helps us cling to the essence of life and sharpen the tools we need to thrive in life.
It is also an opportunity to get to know ourselves. When we isolate ourselves from all the material things and spend less time thinking about eating, drinking, and going out, we get to truly spend some time with the Lord and our own thoughts and feelings and listen to them. It is another form of soul searching; we get to know parts of our self and we get to understand how strong we are against temptations and how forgiving we are against those who did us wrong and how we can let go, and let God. All these are questions we normally ask ourselves, but Lent really puts it all in perspective. Lent, fasting, charity and prayer are supposed to
be a lifestyle not an occasion. Even though it is one month and ten days, the point is to carry out these behaviors after Lent and throughout the year too. It is more about becoming a better human being. It is a reminder from God that we are here to do good, to forgive, to heal, to let go and to help those who cannot help themselves — in other words, to walk the journey of becoming a child of God.
Father George Hajj is the pastor of Saint Anthony Maronite Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.