Earlier this week we began our Lenten journey with the celebration of a number of Ash Wednesday liturgies with the students and staff. The three synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all recall the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness desert before beginning his public ministry where the devil tempted Jesus three times. Just as we appreciate the importance of physical exercise for our health and wellbeing, the Church invites us to enter into this time of spiritual exercise as a way of preparing ourselves for the great celebration of Easter – the foundational event of our faith celebrating that Jesus has risen from the death and triumphed over sin and death. In his 2021 Lenten Message, Pope Francis described Lent as a time for renewing faith, hope and love. You can read Pope Francis’ full Lenten message here.
Many of you will remember and be familiar with the traditional Lenten acts of fasting, prayer and almsgiving which are designed to help us grow in our desire to “repent and believe in the Gospel”. I recalled with Years 7, 8, 11 and 12 this week that when I was a young boy aged 12, I decided to give up ice cream for Lent; however, the challenge for me was that a new ice cream had come onto the market called an Ice Cream Burger. I shared with the students that I managed to convince myself that I was not really eating ice cream, but rather a burger. 36 years later, I still recall how good it tasted. In reflecting on this, I suggested that my desire to give up ice cream, along with my early attempts at casuistry, really missed the whole point of Lent, especially how our acts of fasting, prayer and almsgiving are designed to open our hearts more deeply to engaging with our God. In turn, this deeper engagement can lead us to respond to each other with a greater love and a greater sense of care for one another and our world.
I suggested to the students that a possible expression of fasting this Lent could be a choice to spend 10-15 minutes less time each day on social media and to use that time to engage in undertaking a second examen – the prayer that every student and staff member engages in at midday, each day at the College. The examen is a simple prayer developed by St Ignatius that involves five steps:
- Becoming aware of God’s presence;
- Reviewing the day with gratitude;
- Paying attention to our emotional responses throughout the day;
- Choosing one feature or one emotional response of the day and conversing with God about what was happening, what I can learn from it and whether I need to take any concrete action – perhaps reaching out to another with whom I may have had a life-giving or difficult interaction; and
- Finishing the prayer by asking our God of the resurrection to fill us with hope for tomorrow.
You can learn more about this Ignatian way of praying at IgnatianSpirituality.com.
We all know that the global pandemic continues to impact on our lives, and within the context of our Lenten journey, our desire to undertake almsgiving or other good works is somewhat curtailed. I suggested to our students that despite this we can still engage in being people of service here in the College, in our families and in wider social networks. In his Lenten message, Pope Francis said:
“In Lent, we may be increasingly concerned with ‘speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement, and not words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn.’ In order to give hope to others, it is sometimes enough simply to be kind, to be ‘willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference.”
These words are an inspiring vision of the Jesus’ invitation to “love one another as I have loved you”. Over this last year, we have been reminded of the gift of time and the importance of the daily gestures of love, encouragement and kindness. Let’s build upon this, as we seek to deepen our relationship with God and with each other over the next 40 days.
Wishing you every blessing for your Lenten journey.