ASH WEDNESDAY (FEB 17) marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 days of preparation for the Easter season when Christians are called to renew their commitment to spiritual practices like prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Lent is an annual opportunity to grow in our faith, which means it’s about much more than giving up unhealthy foods or treats, as we may have done as children. It is about abstaining from whatever is unhealthy in our lives – gossip, laziness, lack of social conscience – and, most importantly, taking concrete steps to do something more. Challenge yourself this year, and go beyond the clichés of “giving up” something. Now is a great time to take stock of our spiritual life, and to grow in it.

LENT AS A 40-day season developed in the fourth century; Ash Wednesday was instituted to bring the number of fast days before Easter to 40, not including Sundays.
The number 40 has always had a special significance to the Church with regards to preparation:
  • Moses remained on Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights without food and water while preparing to receive the 10 Commandments. (Ex 34:28)
  • Elijah walked 40 days and nights before arriving at Mount Horeb (another name for Mount Sinai). (1 Kg 19:8)
  • Jesus Christ fasted for 40 days and nights in the desert before He began His public ministry. (Mt 4:2)
  • In Genesis, God sent rain upon the world for 40 days and nights while Noah remained in his ark.
  • The Hebrew people wandered for 40 years before arriving at the Promised Land.
  • The people of Nineveh repented for 40 days when they heard Jonah’s prophecy of doom upon them.
  • There is a traditional belief in the Church that Jesus lay in his tomb for 40 hours before His resurrection.
Traditional pillars of Lent – Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving

Prayer – More time spent in prayer should draw us closer to God. The faithful are encouraged to pray for the grace to live out our baptismal promises more fully.

Fasting – It is often an aid to prayer as hunger pangs are meant to remind us of our hunger for God. Fasting should also serve as a reminder of those without food because of poverty, those who are suffering injustices because of economic or political structures, or who are in need in any way. This is linked to our baptismal promises because, by our baptism, we are charged with a responsibility to show Christ’s love to the world especially to those in need. Fasting helps us to realise others’ sufferings and to lead us to greater efforts to alleviate them.

Almsgiving – A sign of our care and concern for those in need and an expression of our gratitude for all that God has given us. Works of charity and the promotion of justice are integral to the Christian life we are baptised into. n

- By Joyce Gan
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Others Share...

This Lent, I would change my actions so as to change my heart. I will learn to give up my preferences such as rushing for seats in trains and food centres. I will give up looking for good food, products or services. I will replace anger, greed and hatred with a smile and think about God, Jesus, and His angels and saints all the time.

- Peter Andrew

I do not make any promises during Lent for fear that I will break it. What I ask for is the Holy Spirit’s guidance to bring me to people I can help emotionally or physically like the depressed or immobile. Some months ago the Holy Spirit guided me to a person who had multiple strokes and today she is recovering well. Each time she thanks me I tell her that it is God working through me. I enjoy it when it comes naturally, within me and spiritually without any promises.
- Paul Antony Fernandez

I had a bad temper and often got angry with my eight-year-old nephew and my five- and three-year old nieces. I soon realised the kids moved away from me because I always scolded them. My Lent penance [then] was to say the rosary and avoid eating meat on Fridays, and soon, I began to be more patient with the kids. Till now, they are more fond of me. When I’m not around, they miss me. I let them win at games like chess, or “What is the time Mr Wolf?” because I know that children dislike losing. I let them use blankets, chairs, etc. to use as toys. I am just like a catechist or at entertainment like in Children’s Liturgy with the kids.
- Kevin Siew

Last year, I tried to awake an hour earlier for prayer. Though initially successful, the practice deteriorated. Sometimes I got back on track and I would congratulate myself but soon, I couldn’t crawl out of bed again. On hindsight, I depended on my willpower and did not rely very much on God. This year, I shall be less ‘ambitious’, and seek to be nicer to those I am impatient to. I will also turn to God more. I know He can help me even if I can’t help myself.
- Joy Lee

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