Inspiration: Lent, and time of faith, hope and charity
Forty days of rain and the earth was flooded. Noah at the end of those days received a covenant from God for the good of all living things (Genesis 7-9).
The Philistine army, with Goliath, stood 40 days in front of the Israelites. At the end of 40 days David slays Goliath to conquer the threat of the armies (1 Samuel 17).
Jesus is led by the Spirit to the desert for 40 days. In those desert days he is tempted by the devil (Luke 4).
Forty is saturated throughout the Old and New Testaments. The ends of the periods of 40 are fulfilled with God’s covenants and promises.
The Christian tradition of the Lenten season is rooted in the 40 days of Jesus in the desert. At the end of the 40 days he is tempted toward particular things: 1) Food to satisfy the hunger of fasting; 2) Wealth and worldly power; 3) Testing God to prove his goodness. Jesus conquers each temptation with the Word of God. This is the beginning of our understanding of the Lenten Season.
The days of Lent in Christian tradition have always called for three things to be practiced more intensively in these days so as to combat the temptations that Christ faced in the desert and that we face as well: being physically satisfied, wealthy and in control, and challenging God to get our way. And so it has been for centuries that we practice fasting, almsgiving and holy prayer in these days.
Where does this come from, though? I speak of tradition, but is it rooted in Scripture? You bet!
The Sermon on the Mount given by Christ is found in Matthew 5-7. In chapter six he preaches on three things of importance: Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting.
Jesus is clear in this teaching that we are not to do these things so as to be recognized as holy, but rather that God may see our acts of faith, hope and charity to deliver us the reward of God and not of human beings.
And so almsgiving is an act of the virtue of charity. We let go of control and wealth so as to help others in need. It is the act of charity that conquers the evil one’s temptation for a self-serving power and wealth.
Prayer is in accord with the virtue of hope. We turn to the Lord in praise and thanksgiving offering our lives to Him in the great hope of salvation. Hope wins over the need to test God. Hope leads us to trust in Him.
Faith is strengthened in fasting. We are tempted to look to the satisfaction of the present time; to get what we want or need right now. Fasting done properly leads to greater faith in being fulfilled in the Lord above all other things. It causes the will to long for God more than materials or food.
I often say, “Happy Lent!” People look at me like I’m crazy (which is normal for me) when I say this. But, I see that our acts of Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting in these 40 days lead us to deeper faith, hope and charity in Christ who suffered in the desert.
The 40 days, like sets of 40 of old, lead us to the covenant and promises God offers. The destination of these days of Lent in the Christian community of 2014 bring us once again in history to enter the proclamation, celebration and living out of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus the Nazarene, whom we believe is the Christ.
You see the whole picture is about our journey to true happiness. Thus, I say to you and us all, “Happy Lent!”
May God bless you and may Jesus Christ be praised!