LENT – WHAT FOR?
Fr. JAROSŁAW GRABOWSKI
A simple but also a significant gesture of sprinkling ashes on heads started our Great Lent. In the Lent preface we find significant words: ‘Almighty God, You through the carnal Lent reduce defects, raise the spirit…’ In the difficult times of war when lots of people were forced to starve, one could feel an irony in these words, because there was a belief that the Lent takes away freedom from the man. When today we compare our welfare and satiety with today’s times, we will state that the words of the preface are real: Lent really reduces defects and raises the spirit. Reflecting deeper on these words, ‘we realize the fact, however, that the contemporary man – full, abundant in everything- becomes blind and deaf. He sees only himself’ (Joseph Ratzinger).
In the times dominated by the consumptive style of life and omnipresent care about achieving as many pleasures as possible, the Lent and mortification seem to be anachronism, from allegedly dark epoch of the Middle Ages. It is worth remembering that mortification and self-denial are not only a creation of Christianity. Stoic philosophy had already spoken about abstinence, which recommended an attitude of distance towards various kinds of pleasures. Socrates thought that body mortification helps the soul to manage it in a proper way. One of his saying is still valid: ‘Little people live in order to eat and drink, valuable people eat and drink in order to live’. Whereas Aristotle stated that using the golden mean, that is, maintaining the balance, also towards carnal pleasures, helps the man to achieve ethical perfection.
The basis to maintain the Lent is found mainly in the Bible. In the First Royal Book Ahab, the king of Israel, who sinned towards Yahweh, serving to other gods, when was called to penance by prophet Elias, tore his robes, put on a penance bag and started fasting. In response to this attitude of the king, God said: ‘Because he humbled himself to me, I will not send any disaster to his life’ (1Royal Book 12.29). In another book priest Ezdra, through Lent, was asking God for care over people during hiking: ‘I decided about the Lent at the Achawa river so that we would humble ourselves to our God and ask Him for a lucky road for us, our children and possessions’ (Ezd 8.21). God acceded to the request of the penitent. In the Book of Jonas the Lent was shown as a form of penitence and compensation for committed sins. Prophet Jonas announced God’s punishment to inhabitants of Nineveh, which they deserved, and, in response, they believed God and undertook the Lent: ‘God saw everything which they had done and did not send a disaster onto them’ (Jon 3.10). One of the most important examples of the Lent and mortification is in the New Testament in the scene of temptation of Jesus on the desert. Jesus, responding to the temptations of satan, including the desire of food, points out to values supreme in human life than food and drink: ‘Human being lives not only with the very bread’ (Mt 4.4).
Lent and mortification bring us closer to God, lead to inner healing, and are, finally, a weapon aimed against satan, therefore whispers of satan are trying to fight the Lent. It is described by dr. med. Ewa Dąbrowska, using the Lent as a method of treatment for years: ‘Although the Lent belongs to the most effective methods of treating illnesses of the contemporary civilization, is being attacked from everywhere. It raises fear, is reluctantly accepted by an ill person or his family. Today I understand that it is a method of healing not only the body, but also the soul.
The Great Lent is time of transformation and renewal of the spirit. We are facing it as a task again. How to fulfill it? The answer is given to us by Joseph Ratzinger who at the beginning of his ministry reminded: “The Lent should be rejection of one’s own egoism. If the purpose of various kinds of fasts: medical, esthetical and other is only my own “I”, this kind of fasting may not be enough for the man because it does not free him from himself. Whereas the man needs such a Lent which would free him from himself and made him free for God and for other people, too. The appeal which he addresses to us at the Great Lent, is not nice. However, who is watching carefully his own situation, knows that encouragement for real Lent is needed, which is free from egoistic purposes’.