Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart
for I am gracious and merciful. Joel 2:12
Today’s reading from Joel (which was also the first reading on Ash Wednesday) reminds us again of God’s gracious and tender mercy. God wants us to return to Him, no matter what we have done, no matter how long we have been away from Him. We need not be afraid.
In his Lenten message from 2016, Pope Francis wrote: “Mercy expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe.”
Just as the Mercy of God “offers a new chance” for a sinner to “look at himself, convert and believe,” so also Lent offers all believers a new chance to grow more deeply in the faith and in our own personal relationship with Christ.
Conversion does not necessarily need to be extreme (like in the case of St. Paul), but we are called to grow more deeply in our faith, no matter where we are in our faith life. We are all called to be “saints.” Saints have always tried to imitate Christ and to be closer to God in their lives.
In Matthew’s Gospel (6: 5-18), Jesus teaches us how to pray. He then gives us the teaching on fasting. Prayer and fasting are a team and can be the solution to the world’s problems. Even if we have already been fasting, we can use fasting and prayer as a chance to grow in our faith. Lent is an ideal time to take fasting to the next level! Let’s answer Jesus’ call to pray and fast!
If we’re already fasting two days a week, maybe we can add another day of fasting. Perhaps we can skip one meal on extra days during Lent and replace that meal with bread and water. We can also add a fast from social media, television or special treats we enjoy. The self-denial of fasting has so many spiritual benefits and we can all benefit from the spiritual graces and the increase in the virtue of temperance that naturally results when we are not taking part in something we enjoy.
Lent is a time of conversion, of growing closer to Christ and of growing stronger in our faith. It is a time of listening to Jesus’ call to pray and fast. It is a positive, joyful time to reflect not only on preparing for the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection, but also preparing our souls for eternity.
When we fast and pray today, let us do so for those who are perpetually hungry, the poor, the community prayer intentions and for the victims of the school shooting last week in Florida.
Holy Mary, pray for us! Holy Spirit, teach us to pray!