Lent is an opportunity to drop habits that don’t serve God
In the Maronite Church, Lent is a nautical expedition. It begins on Cana Sunday with a celebration where we pray in our liturgy to reach the Harbour of Salvation – which is Christ himself – and continues until we arrive there safely, through our Lenten journey.
Lent for us is both an individual journey and a collective one, where we can travel as an individual, family and as a Church community. It is a time to redirect our daily routine and when done collectively it can be even more rewarding as we all share in the experience.
Fasting and Abstinence
A key part of the Maronite Lenten journey is fasting and abstinence, with the exception of Sundays during Lent as the days of resurrection. Ash Monday, when we receive ashes, signals the beginning of our fast as a family.
The desert fathers and mothers saw abstinence and fasting as a way to temperance and to ‘declutter’, allowing us to focus on prayer and the needs of the soul over the body. When we get hungry or crave something during Lent, it is an opportunity to refocus the mind on the purpose of Lent. Fasting and abstinence makes us more attune to the spiritual and to our purpose. It also helps us to depend on God more fully and to have compassion for the poor and the hungry.
For us in the Maronite Church, abstinence restricts us from eating meat and or dairy products and fasting is the abstinence from eating and drinking from midnight till noon with the possibility of drinking water and consuming medication only.
Abstinence and fasting are a discipline that teaches us to gain control, because so often the source of our sin is a loss of control. By gaining control of something so simple as food, we can move to gain control of those things that are distancing us from God. In this way, we are encouraged to think about what is blocking our way to Christ and work on distancing ourselves from sin controlling our lives, otherwise, it will be nothing more than a diet. Lent is a time to pick your medicine, remove the obstacles and encounter Christ this Lent.
For many of us growing up in a society where food is plentiful and so easily wasted, abstinence and fasting allows us to remember and teach our children that others in the world have very little. They are a reminder that we are a part of a wider humanity and part of Creation which we should never take for granted. And so should also not mean turning to costly dinner eat outs or wasteful fast food, which would render the purpose futile.
Fasting and abstinence is only one part of Lent. Lent is not meant to be a momentary change, but an opportunity to permanently transform and draw us closer to God, to prepare ourselves and refocus on what matters in the lead up to Easter. The key is to recognise what is distancing us from God and putting Him again at the centre of your life.
One year for Lent, I went offline and turned off all social media. The first few days were a big change. My phone was silent, I found myself picking it up for no reason at all and staring at it waiting for some form of contact. Slowly, I accepted that going offline freed up a lot of time. I had more time to pray, garden, and read. Giving up social media didn’t only mean I had a lot of spare time on my hands, it also meant I was no longer enslaved to my phone. I realised just how much time I’d wasted online, mindlessly flicking through my newsfeed.
I learnt that social media robbed me of my time and of real experiences and conversations. I rediscovered my ability to experience adventure without documenting it on social media.
During catch up dinners, my friends would inform me of the latest social media incident, and I would be glad I missed all the fuss. I recognised and was pleased to have kept my peace and focused on my relationship with God, rather than being worked up over other people’s opinions and sometimes rude comments.
I did sign back in come Easter Sunday, but my social media ban during Lent allowed me to remember that I need to step back at times, put my phone away and pick up a book or experience nature without a phone screen to document everything.
Start preparing for your Lenten journey now. Think about what is blocking your way to Christ. It is your time to pick your medicine, remove the obstacles and encounter Christ this Lent.
Christina Maksisi and Theresa Simon are parishioners at Our Lady of Lebanon Parish in Harris Park and part of the LivingMaronite team.
Reproduced with permission from The Catholic Weekly, the news publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.