Here we are in the second week of our Lenten journey. No doubt most of us remember Lent as a time of “fasting” and “giving up.” Fasting from candy or desserts; giving up smoking or leisure time activities we liked. I remember thinking the more difficult the practice, the more meritorious it was. While there might be a spiritual benefit of such acts done with sincerity of heart and spirit, the fact is that many of us also used Lent and our individual “giving up” to shed a few pounds, to clear our lungs, or to save a few dollars, if only for a few weeks. Our Lenten sacrifices had not only spiritual value, but some personal payback as well.
The meaning of Lent today has far less to do with “giving up,” and much more to do with internal conversion. Lent offers us a time to reflect on our lives, to take stock of who we are and how we live out what we say we believe. It invites us to take ownership of ourselves, complete with strengths and shortcomings. Finally, in this season the Church encourages us to seek the grace of conversion, that our weaknesses – our sinfulness – might be touched and healed by God who loves us unconditionally.
But how do we enter into this process of conversion? To begin with, conversion is not something we do; it is, rather, God’s gift. Only God’s love has the power to change our hearts. We, for our part, can assist the process by being open to God, by making more time for prayer and reflection, and by allowing God the chance to speak to us in the depths of our hearts.
Our response to God’s love should ideally be to love in return and to live as people who are the beloved of God. To help us in this effort, let us consider some new variations of fasting.
Instead of fasting from a favorite food or activity, why not consider fasting from a less than admirable behavior or attitude and “feasting” instead on something more life-giving. For instance, fasting from discontent or complaining and replacing it with a spirit of gratitude; or fasting from gossip, and feasting on life-giving speech or even prayerful silence. Such fasting and “feasting” need not end with Easter; ideally, it will become a part of us. That is what conversion is about – turning our hearts to God and to loving as God loves.
In this Lenten season, we seek the grace of conversion that we might truly live as people of light, as people who live and love as deeply and as selflessly as God loves us. Happy feasting!