This week we commence the season in the Church’s year known as Lent. As the name suggests, Lent is something of a new springtime, providing the opportunity to recalibrate our priorities and purge our systems of the selfishness and hurt that hinder us being fully open to God’s love. Lent invites us to consider our relationships – our relationship with God (prayer), others (almsgiving), and the self (sacrifice).
Lent is a special time of metanoia – leaving behind an old way of acting in order to embrace new life in Christ. We are encouraged to spend time in prayer, for example praying the Examen, attending Mass, praying at home, visiting a church or chapel, reading the Bible, making the Stations of the Cross, or praying the Rosary. We should help others, for example by showing special attention to someone who is poor, sick, elderly, lonely, or overburdened, or giving to the poor. We should practise self-denial, for example not eating so much food, or giving up entertainment to spend time with the family. Lent invites us to share what we have with those most in need. Project Compassion is the Lenten fundraising appeal of Caritas Australia.
Self-denial helps us find balance, reconciliation, and a better life. Many Muslim people observe Ramadan, which includes fasting from dawn to sunset. The feast of Yom Kippur involves fasting for Jewish people. Fasting may mean having only one full meal on a day. Smaller quantities of food may be eaten at other times. Abstinence is the practice of abstaining from the use of certain kinds of food. Catholics were once known for their practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays. In 1966 guidelines concerning fasting and abstinence were simplified, and other works of service, and of devotion were encouraged. Abstinence from meat, and fasting, are only to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday by adults. Fasting only applies to people from 18 to 59 years old. Abstinence from meat only applies to those aged over 14 years. The act of fasting encourages us to cleanse the soul from harmful habits. It helps us to be more responsive to the gifts of the Spirit and service of others.
Lent can be a time for great self-honesty. Some try to stop gossiping or unkind acts and words. Some limit screen time or addictive patterns of gaming or social media. Some give up superfluities or comfort food or drink to be more in solidarity with those who have little. Where something is out of balance, Ignatius encouraged us to change the pattern of our behaviour and move in the opposite direction – agere contra. For example, if we are wasting time, then we become more industrious and diligent, or we may choose to face, rather than avoid, a fear.
Lent is a good occasion to consider things that we should lament. We lament the sin of greed and the fact that Australians are consuming much more than most people on the planet, and more than what the earth can supply. We lament the heartlessness shown towards the most vulnerable people on our planet – refugees and asylum seekers. We lament failures by leaders to protect people as they should.
Here at St Ignatius’ College Adelaide, the diocese has given us some ashes which are a combination of the Adelaide Hills, South East and Kangaroo Island regions. These have been mixed with our ashes for distribution at our liturgies on Ash Wednesday. They are a good symbol of many things, including a reminder of our lament for those affected by the fires and our solidarity with all who suffer.
By Fr Peter Hosking SJ, Rector of Saint Ignatius’ College, Adelaide.