The disciples of John approached Jesus and said,
“Why do we and the Pharisees fast much,
but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn
as long as the bridegroom is with them?
The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast.”
Often, at the beginning of Lent, we feel we have to steel ourselves to endure the coming days of fasting and penance. We treat it either as a race to prove our spiritual stamina or a trial to be endured. And eventually, we become burnt out, reverting to our old ways come Easter. But Lent is not something we are supposed to “muscle through.” The purpose of fasting is not to prove our endurance; it is to awaken our desire for God, to develop an awareness of our hunger for Him. He gives us the practice of fasting in order to draw us into closer intimacy with Him, to draw our focus away from ourselves and toward the sacred. The disciples, then, did not fast when Jesus was with them because they were already in the presence of the One who fulfilled the deepest longings of their hearts. We who are surrounded by so many distractions need this Lenten fast to quiet all the noise. It helps us realize that we have an emptiness within us, one that can only be filled by God.
Lent is not something that we can succeed or fail at. It’s not about setting goals and working to achieve them. It’s not about choosing easy sacrifices so we can be sure not to mess them up. God knows that we will stumble along the way—and that’s the point. He wants us to realize our own weakness so that we can learn to depend upon Him, instead of clinging to our own independence, our own plans, our own will. We repeat the words so often—Thy will be done—but how often do we really mean them? How often do we trust that God’s will is truly better than our own?
Remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return. When we truly enter into the practices of Lent, our weaknesses are exposed—and how painful that can be! We guard our pride so closely and recoil from anything that reveals our faults. But God does not expose our wounds and weaknesses in order to embarrass us or shame us. He puts His finger on our wounds in order to initiate their healing. However, we often instinctually turn away and shield them from His touch, because it hurts. We are used to avoiding the tender area and minimizing the pain instead of actually getting to the root of our wound and healing it. But God is the Healer. He can mend our broken places, if only we open ourselves up to Him and allow Him to move in us. We must be patient and trust that He will never harm us—though the ointment of His grace may sting at first, it will ultimately bring relief. His touch is not just a temporary salve; He will renew us from within.
Jesus knows that we are so afraid to let Him touch our wounds. And so, first, He invites us to touch His wounds. He opens Himself up to us, modeling the openness we are to have toward Him. He allows us to scourge Him. And then He shows the glory of His healing. We place our finger into His side and experience His wounds now glorified. He allows us in, so that we can see the transformation He wants to make in us, too—to take our brokenness and make it radiant. May this Lent draw us beyond our comfort zones so that the true restorative work of healing can begin.
[Another] fault…is timidity, based at least in part on self-love, on fear of failure and of being slapped down, in short on cowardice. This fault has a thousand faces, or rather a thousand masks, including the masks of modesty, reserve, humility, and simplicity.
Mortification in this case consists in acting against our timidity by forcing ourselves to come out of our shell, exposing ourselves to blows, and speaking as if we had some self-confidence. We must be ready to risk small failures; to step forward when it is fitting; to let others know our faults (which is better than hiding them).
Above all, the mortification of timidity is a matter of cultivating a great, courageous, apostolic soul, so that Christ may reach his full stature within us and not be circumscribed, as it were, by our pettiness. The secret of success here is to think less of ourselves and more of God and of his glory, of Christ and of his Mother.
—Father Léonce de Grandmaison, S.J.
1. William Hole, Temptation of Jesus in desert / PD-US
2. Caravaggio, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas / PD-US