Lent is a season of joyous suffering. Despite the lack of Alleluias during mass, the lack of loud percussions, the death of our Lord, it is a season wherein souls most joyously celebrate. For it is during this time that we see the horizon of our salvation- the other side of the fence; the victory above the losses, the life above death, the love above sin and redemption above damnation. Fast forward from the time of Jesus to now, Lent continues to be the turning point of our lives. We are called to take the narrow path to salvation which we can do through repentance. And with repentance, as is stated in the traditional Catholic doctrine, comes penance.
As serious as an obligation penance is, the Catholic Church, on her part, makes it easy for Catholics to realize this obligation by specifying two official forms of penitential practices: abstinence and fasting. Abstinence requires people 14 years of age and above to abstain from eating meat (flesh and organs of mammals and fowl). Fasting, on the other hand, requires people 18 to 60 years old to reduce amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one complete meal a day. Outside the reduction of food, though, fasting is also self-denial from other things of the flesh.
Doing penance is a hard thing to do. It becomes easy when we fix our eyes not on the little struggles of fasting and abstinence but on the victory that lies ahead; that we may also rise with Christ on Easter Sunday; that we may also share in Christ’s paschal mystery. As we delve into the season of Lent, we pray:
Dear Lord, we are now in the holy season of Lent. We begin to realize anew that these are the days of salvation, these are the acceptable days. We know that we are all sinners. We know that in many things we have all offended Your infinite majesty. We know that sin destroys Your life in us as a drought withers the leaves and chokes the life from the land, leaving an arid, dusty desert. Help us now, Lord, in our feeble attempts to make up for past sin. Bless our efforts with the rich blessing of Your grace. Make us realize ever more our need of penance and of mortification. Help us to see, in our ordinary difficulties and duties, in the trials and temptations of every day, the best opportunity of making up for past infidelities. Every day we are so often reminded in field and wood, in sky and stream, of Your own boundless generosity to us. Help us to realize that You are never outdone in generosity, and that the least thing we do for You will be rewarded, full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and flowing over. Then we shall see, in our own souls, how the desert can blossom, and the dry and wasted land can bring forth the rich, useful fruit that was expected of it from the beginning. Amen.