What are you giving up for Lent? The old favourites surface – sweets, ice-cream, favourite snacks, cigarettes. Some people forego the cinema while others will go without alcohol for the duration. The challenge of Lent may inspire people to brave the early morning cold to attend Mass during the week. Helping an old neighbour or serving in a food bank calls for generosity of spirit and self-giving.
We want to do something, some action that costs us so that we, in some small way, can make this journey with the Lord. Our focus is not on what we are doing, on what we are giving up, but on Jesus.
We do not want to be like the observant Pharisee in the parable (Lk 18: 29-14). “I fast, I give…” No, rather we bow our heads with the despised tax collector: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner:” This is a time when we journey with Jesus as he moves towards Jerusalem. The time in his public life when he feels the anger of the authorities, the rejection of those who once walked with him, the falling-away of even his close disciples. And awareness of the terrible suffering that awaits him is always in his consciousness.
We want to be with him. We live in a wold of violence and destruction and have seen the unbearable suffering of peoples at home and far away. “To whom shall we go?” (Jn 6:68) was Peter’s question; it is ours today. Only to Jesus, who even as he hung on the cross, cried out, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing” (Jn 6:68).
Here is the crux of Lent; not fixed on the suffering and death, but on the great heart of Jesus that loves without end, without limit. He gives himself to us, despite our rejection, our coldness, our falling-away. When we really enter into Lent we learn something of this endless, forgiving, healing love.
We know that, by ourselves there are some hurts, some grave injuries that we simply cannot forgive. Wounds that are deep and festering in us hold us in their grip. We feel the bitterness rise up in us; we truly want to forgive but we are not yet ready. God knows all this, knows our inmost being and will help us. When we walk with Jesus during these days of Lent, when we stay at the Cross with Mary we will learn to forgive, we will learn that the love of God in Jesus can heal all hearts, even the hardest and most bitter.
So yes, give up the sweets, give up the snacks. But more than anything look at Jesus, learn from him and this may be the best, most fruitful Lent of your life.