A five year old friend of mine has announced he’s giving up pepperoni pizza for Lent. Other people I know are thinking of fasting from chocolate or alcohol, giving money to the poor, or spending more time in prayer. In Lent it’s good to use the three ‘exercises’ of fasting, almsgiving and prayer to build up our spiritual muscles, to grow into ‘better versions of ourselves’, but these are not the only things we can do for Lent.
Pope Francis has thrown down a challenge to all of us in his message, The Joy of the Gospel: ‘I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since no-one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.’
He has also recommended to us ‘one particular way of listening to what the Lord wishes to tell us in his Word and of letting ourselves be transformed by the Spirit. It is what we call lectio divina. It consists of reading God’s word in a moment of prayer and allowing it to enlighten and renew us’.
Our diocese has prepared a resource which will enable us to do this together during the first five weeks of Lent and in this parish there will be about twenty opportunities each week, at different times and in different places, to join in this prayerful reflection on the Gospel for each Sunday and on the message of Pope Francis.
This first week, because the Gospel is about Jesus being tempted in the desert, we will reflect on the temptations Pope Francis has described that could stop us from carrying out our mission to share the joy of the Gospel, not in a defeatist way but positively: ‘Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary vigour.’
Please look at the list of times and places for the Lent groups and find one that you can commit to for the next five weeks: it could be the best Lenten exercise you’ve ever done.