The Lenten Journey and Its Message for Discerners
"When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."—Matthew 6:16-18
Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving. They are always the pillars for the season of Lent. When we enter into these Lenten practices with openness, the three disciplines can assist us in the discernment process. The Scriptures and tradition remind us that they should not be carried out gloomily or to draw attention to ourselves, but instead in a joyful manner. These practices include self-denial—which can be done in positive ways and can help us find where we are being called.
In Pope Francis' Lenten message for 2014, he writes: "The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope! It is thrilling to experience the joy of spreading this good news, sharing the treasure entrusted to us, consoling broken hearts, and offering hope to our brothers and sisters experiencing darkness." During his first year as pope, Francis has certainly shown us how we as religious can be joyous heralds of God's message.
Pope Francis also challenges us in his Lenten letter by reminding us that "Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt."
Giving up time for oneself can mean making more time to pray—which an individual must do on a daily basis in a discernment process. Giving up something should lead a person to take on something else. For instance, giving up time for watching TV could free up time for helping out at the local food pantry or homeless shelter. Francis does say that real poverty hurts, meaning when we sacrifice we should be giving up things we like. The question each of us must ask himself or herself is, What am I really willing to give up?
Our Lenten journey has begun. If a person were to give up his or her whole self in order to be a joyous herald, what would that mean? Are you willing to give up your career or chance to earn a living? Are you willing to give up your job and never own your own house? Are you willing to give up a chance to get married and have children? Are you willing to give up the freedom of going where you want to go and doing what you want to do?
Why wait to begin the journey through the desert to the foot of the cross? If you will begin the process of giving yourself up to the discernment process, then I think you will find that the Resurrection will bring you new life. By giving up what you want and following your call to do what God wants, you will be transformed into the person God calls you to be. This transformation does not happen overnight; it is a journey. The 40 days of Lent are symbolic of our own journeys towards conversion and greater closeness to God. Are you willing to take the next step?