New College altar, Lent

The great season of penitence is upon us.  Pope Benedict is showing us the way to enter deeply into it.

You can read his Lenten Message here.  It places special emphasis on fasting (emphases mine):

Fasting certainly bring benefits to physical well-being, but for believers, it is, in the first place, a “therapy” to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God. In the Apostolic Constitution Pænitemini of 1966, the Servant of God Paul VI saw the need to present fasting within the call of every Christian to “no longer live for himself, but for Him who loves him and gave himself for him, he will also have to live for his brethren” (cf. Ch. I). Lent could be a propitious time to present again the norms contained in the Apostolic Constitution, so that the authentic and perennial significance of this long held practice may be rediscovered, and thus assist us to mortify our egoism and open our heart to love of God and neighbor, the first and greatest Commandment of the new Law and compendium of the entire Gospel (cf. Mt 22, 34-40).

The faithful practice of fasting contributes, moreover, to conferring unity to the whole person, body and soul, helping to avoid sin and grow in intimacy with the Lord. Saint Augustine, who knew all too well his own negative impulses, defining them as “twisted and tangled knottiness” (Confessions, II, 10.18), writes: “I will certainly impose privation, but it is so that he will forgive me, to be pleasing in his eyes, that I may enjoy his delightfulness” (Sermo 400, 3, 3: PL 40, 708). Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word. Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God.

It also summarizes a variety of ways by which to enter into Lent:

May every family and Christian community use well this time of Lent, therefore, in order to cast aside all that distracts the spirit and grow in whatever nourishes the soul, moving it to love of God and neighbor. I am thinking especially of a greater commitment to prayer, lectio divina, recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and active participation in the Eucharist, especially the Holy Sunday Mass. With this interior disposition, let us enter the penitential spirit of Lent.

I’m going to try to fast every Friday this Lent… maybe more often, if I can.  This year it will not be so much about giving something up as going the extra mile, out of love of God and humanity.  Of course, fasting by definition is giving something up… but you can think of it as a positive action.  Saying “no” to something is also saying “yes” to something else.  I’m going to BE POSITIVE this Lent!

This past Sunday, Pope Benedict also gave an exhortation to rediscover the Sacrament of Penance:

The sins we commit distance us from God, and, if they are not humbly confessed, trusting in the divine mercy, they will finally bring about the death of the soul. This miracle thus has powerful symbolic value. Jesus, as Isaiah prophesied, is the servant of the Lord who “bore our infirmities, / endured our sufferings” (Isaiah 53:4). In his passion he will become like a leper, made impure by our sins, separated from God: He will do all this for love, with the aim of obtaining reconciliation, forgiveness and salvation for us.

In the Sacrament of Penance Christ crucified and risen, through his ministers, purifies us with his infinite mercy, restores us to communion with the heavenly Father and our brothers, and makes a gift of his love, joy and peace to us.

The Sacrament of Penance is a gift of divine love, joy, and peace.  How can anybody not want that?  Lent is a great time to get back to this Sacrament, the Sacrament that ensures we receive all the bountiful graces of all the other Sacraments.  I don’t think I could carry on without going to Confession at least once a month.  What can I say?  I can’t stand not being in a state of grace.  I’m not boasting.  Believe me, I’m as surprised as anyone.

You can do it.  It will be over so quickly and you’ll be so much better off that you won’t understand what kept you from it.  Go to Confession.  Remember that the only person in this entire universe who gains anything by your not going is the devil.

Related post:

Trouble going to Confession?  Two simple suggestions.

(Photo by Flickr user Lawrence OP)