Fr Gerry McFlynn: Lent, the season for soul sustenance
Lent is a time to look closely at our own lives and ask important questions of ourselves. Fr Gerry McFlynn shares three exercises to help on the journey through the season
THE word Lent comes from the old English word for spring, 'lencten', and has to do with the long fast before the great feast of Easter.
Fasting was one of the many disciplines the first followers of Jesus adopted from Judaism and played a very important role in the life of the first Christian communities.
In today's world, however, the very idea of fasting and practising abstinence can seem to be a bit out of place.
After all, we live in a society where consumerism is rampant and where any kind of abstinence looks almost freakish.
There almost seems to be something 'wrong' with the idea of denying ourselves anything.
In the prevailing culture, if we want something, we must just have it, full stop. And there are temptations around every corner with which to indulge
Yet it is in just such a context that Lent draws its strength.
The liturgical season performs a number of useful functions.
Firstly, it forces us to confront our own mortality. Ash Wednesday, which signals the start of Lent, reminds us powerfully that we are dust and that to dust we will return.
Just thinking about that should make us realise how precious a gift life is and how tenuous is our hold on it.
Secondly, Lent invites us to take time out from the hustle and bustle of life and to nurture our spiritual wellbeing.
And thirdly, it challenges us to focus on others, to live up to our responsibilities to those closest to us along with our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world.
Traditionally, Lent is a time for giving up something - anything from chocolate to drink. But how about doing something more important instead, like making more time for prayer
More than at any other time of the year we are challenged to look closely at ourselves and ask some important questions.
Questions like: what sort of person am I, what are my views and values in life, what do I really believe?
Lent is a good time for coming up with the answers to such questions. And this not in a negative but a positive way that enables us to move forward and - dare I say it - to make us feel better.
Traditionally, Lent is a time for giving up something - anything from chocolate to drink.
But how about doing something more important instead, like making more time for prayerful reflection in the course of the day.
Did you know that there are 1,440 minutes in each day and if you were to spend just 1 per cent of that time in prayer it would amount to 14 minutes and 24 seconds?
Just imagine giving 14 minutes of your day to God - what a difference that would make to your life.
Think about this. Who recovers from a physical injury faster: someone who normally exercises or someone who doesn't?
The same surely applies to our spiritual life. A deeper prayerful connection with God will not make your problems go away, but it will help you to navigate your way through life in a more effective way.
All of us experience moments of sorrow and struggle in life, be it the death of a loved one, serious illness, financial problems, loss of a job, coupled with anxiety and depression in the present pandemic or whatever.
Such difficulties do not disappear when we pray. But if our soul is fit, we will have the strength to face these challenges in a courageous way.
And if injuries do occur while on our spiritual path, we will be able to recover faster. That's why soul sustenance is important.
Here are three short exercises for Lent. First, call on the name of Jesus, first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
Second, recite the words of the Lord's Prayer, slowly, and think of the meaning of the words as you say them.
Finally, invite the Holy Spirit to guide your actions and thoughts throughout the day. Let go, then, and see where God brings you.
The results might be unexpected, but they will be good for your soul.
Anyhow, whatever you do and however you journey through the season, have a good Lent.
Fr Gerry McFlynn is a priest of the Down and Connor diocese, project manager at the Irish Chaplaincy in London and involved in Pax Christi, the international Catholic Peace Movement.