How to Spend the Season of Lent
The season of Lent is approaching again this year. We, Catholics are encouraged to deepen our life of faith by making further efforts to feel closer to God.
We must make these efforts in practical ways. These ways, as we are repeatedly told every year, consist of prayer, abstinence, penance and acts of charity. From ancient times they have been regarded as meaningful expressions that help to deepen spirituality within the Christian tradition.
Our daily life is a time in communion with God, no matter what we are doing. Especially when we pray, we face, with our whole being, God or Jesus and depart from all other works or activities. St. Thomas Aquinas offered a definition of prayer in a broad sense, “Never cease to pray. If you turn to God, you continue to pray as long as working with heart, tongue and deeds. In this way, those who continue to turn their whole life to God pray all the time” (Super Epistoram ad Romanos, C.I, V., n 84). However, I would like to talk here about common prayer in which we entirely depart from everything in our world, turn to and have a dialogue with God or Jesus, and concentrate our consciousness on His presence. Prayer also includes meditation, in which people ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate and guide them about certain words of God in the Bible whenever or wherever necessary.
During Lent, prayer must be respected first of all, because whenever we pray concentrating our mind on God or Jesus, we can feel that He is present there facing us. When we feel spiritually who He is, we touch upon the illumination, the holiness itself of God. Meanwhile, our own ugliness is brought to the fore. Then we ask forgiveness of our sin, and hope that we will be closer to God or Jesus as much as possible. In this way, our conversions will bear fruits. As we pray, prayer becomes even more important for us.
Abstinence is truly helpful to put a brake on the tendency of mankind to be easily affected by various desires. It is also effective to keep them in a moderate and balanced condition. Desire itself is not evil. Without appetite, people will not be able to live with good health. However, various desires cause numerous harms because they tend to bring about excessive impulse. In relation to abstinence, it is important to recall the accident in Fukushima nuclear plant. Japanese bishops announced the message “Abolish Nuclear Plants Immediately”, after confirming how much risk all the nuclear plants entail regarding the emission of radioactive materials. As you can see in the cases of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, every nuclear plant always faces countless grave risks, not to mention tsunami. That is the reason why Germany and Italy decided to abolish nuclear plants immediately after the accident in Fukushima
The latest nuclear plant accident and its successive disaster were brought about after all, as the result of the fact that mankind has acknowledged nuclear plants, which could inflict overwhelming damage in times of crisis, without conducting sufficient investigation, for the sake of better living standard and comfort. In the message we bishops encouraged people to live in the spirit of poverty, in order to urge them to be satisfied with less necessities without being controlled by desires. I think it would be a good idea for a person to experience what it is like to love beloved ones and realize happiness by deepening spirituality.
We also encourage all people who tend to live as easily as possible, to perform acts of penance as an effort to endure pain and expiate sin. It must be a precious act to bring our heart as close as possible to Jesus Christ who suffered for redemption.
By the way, it has been always said throughout the Christian history that the commandment of love is the most important of all. During Lent, it is also meaningful to reconfirm whether you are living in love. Jesus himself said the commandment of love is the first and greatest of all (cf. Mt 22:37-38, Mk 12:29-31). St Paul also said love is the source of all virtues: “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails”(1Cor 13:1-8).
Ultimately, love is the primary factor that makes human lives richer. In a group of people, if all have love, the members will be happy. As I said earlier, people cannot be happy by possessing goods alone. On the other hand, people cannot become happy without possessing goods either. It is in a place with abundant love that people are filled with happiness. At the same time, happiness in love cannot be obtained without getting rid of obsession with goods. Let us make this Lent a time to seek spiritual richness, departing from excessive dependence on all goods including energy.
February 22, 2012
Leo Jun Ikenaga S.J.
President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan