Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent and our most sacred time of year: the Easter Season. Lent is the time for us to reconcile our everyday experiences to the reality of the resurrection. It is, after all, the resurrection upon which we put our faith. It is the resurrection that distinguishes us from other religions and new-age followers who believe in their own power and ability. We as Catholics understand that everything rests upon the Risen Lord, whether it is the hope of eternal life or the forgiveness of sins. If we have power, it is only under the auspices of Jesus. Alone we are nothing. In Him, we are everything.
So during Lent we will prepare ourselves, to the best of our ability, for the reality of Christ's victory over death. We fast and pray and attend Stations of the Cross. These activities mark our faith and form our identity during Lent. But what do they mean? How do they help us accomplish our Lenten tasks or complete our Lenten journeys?
Fasting is a precept of the Catholic Church. It is the fifth precept which says, "You shall observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence." Fasting, however, has roots deep within the Judeo-Christian faith. Queen Esther asked for the prayers and fasting of her community, for three full days, before she felt that she could approach the king, her husband, and ultimately save the Jewish people from annihilation. Moses, the first to fast in the Bible, did so as he wrote the words of the commandments on the tablets. And while there are many biblical reasons for fasting, the least of our reasons should be for our own bodily glorification. In other words, we are not called to fast as a way to reduce our waist lines or our weight, even though these results may very well be garnered.
Fasting is named a precept because, like the other precepts (You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, You shall confess your sins at least once a year, You shall humbly receive your Creator in Holy Communion at least during the Easter season, and You shall keep holy the holy days of obligation), it has an ability to tie us to one another, under Christ, and allow us to grow in our love for our Creator. Fasting, then, shows our ability to rein in our natural desires and put ourselves more fully at the feet of Christ. We empty ourselves, literally and figuratively, to be filled with Him.
Prayer, which often accompanies fasting on such days as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, is a special way to commune with our Father. When we join the two, we find their ability to help us align ourselves more fully with God and we experience a certain power, whether in a peaceful acceptance of things we cannot understand or in the form of answered petitions.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes prayer in many different forms which include contemplative, meditative, petition, adoration, and intercessory. Every Catholic has experienced an understanding that the way in which our heart aches to pray one day may very well be different the next. And, of course, when our ability to pray seems to fall short, maybe even shallow, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit will be there to pray for us, knowing the right words that escape us at any given time. Queen Esther's prayers during the time of fasting would have been both intercessory and petitioning, while Moses may have been in a contemplative frame of mind and heart as he recorded God's words on the tablet. Contemplation, as St. Teresa says, "…is nothing else than a close sharing between friends…" This, we know, would have been applicable to God's relationship with the righteous and humble Moses. He was God's friend.
Stations of the Cross provide a unique way in which to pray during the Easter season. They can be classified as meditative prayer for, as the Catechism says, they engage "thought, imagination, emotion, and desire." Stations of the Cross, or the Way of the Cross, engage our thoughts upon those last hours of our Savior's life in a way that prepares us for His resurrection. They involve our imaginations as we are almost forced, by the sheer weight of the words we hear during Stations, to imagine our sins as they weigh down on His cross. Thus engaged, our emotions are brought to the surface and we are able to plumb the depths of our hearts as we ask for forgiveness. Finally, our desire to be united with Christ is palpable during stations and most especially as we reverently say, "Because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world."
As our Lenten season begins to draw to a close, please accept my prayers for you and your family and let us rejoice in the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus, who has risen!
Note: Tomorrow is the last day of registration for the Catholic Exchange Online Women's Study. We invite you to continue your Easter journey with this opportunity to enjoy fellowship and favor with women from around the world and from your own neighborhood. Visit http://www.bezalelbooks.com/ to register.