Since the beginning of Christianity, Lent marked for Christians a time of grace, prayer, penance and fasting , with the aim of reaching conversion. It reminds us of Jesus’ words: ?? If you do not do penance, will you all perish ?? (Lk 13,3) . If we do not leave sin, we cannot have eternal life in God; therefore, the most important activity is our conversion, renouncing sin.
Nothing is worse than sin for the life of man, the Church and the world, teaches the Church; so exactly did Christ come ?? to take away the sin of the world ?? (cf. Jn 1, 29). He is the Lamb of God sacrificed for that.
Saint Paul insists: ?? In the name of Christ we beseech you: be reconciled to God! ?? (2 Cor 5, 20); We urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says: I heard you in a favorable time and helped you on the day of salvation (cf. Is 49,8). Now is the favorable time, now is the day of salvation ?? (2 Cor 6, 1-2).
Lent, then, offers us this “favorable time” to leave sin and return to God. And for that we do penance. Its purpose is not to make us suffer or to deprive us of something that pleases us, but to be a means of purifying our soul. We know what we should do and how to live to please God, but we are weak; penance is done to give us spiritual strength in the fight against sin.
The best Penance, without a doubt, is that of the Sacrament that bears that name. Jesus instituted Confession in His first appearance to the disciples, on the same Sunday as the Resurrection (cf. Jn 20:22) saying to them: “Whomever you forgive sins, sins will be forgiven.” There is no greater grace than to be forgiven by God, to be free from the miseries of the soul and to be at peace with conscience.
In addition to the Sacrament of Confession, the Church offers us other penances that help us to seek holiness: above all those recommended by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 6,1-8): ?? Fasting, almsgiving and prayer? ?, called by the Church as ?? remedies against sin ?? .
Christ fasted and prayed for forty days (a long time) before facing the temptations of the devil in the desert and taught us to overcome it by prayer and fasting. Likewise, the Church wants to teach us how to overcome today’s temptations. We overcome sin by practicing the virtue opposite to it. So, to overcome pride, we must live humility; to overcome greed we must give alms; to overcome impurity, to practice chastity; to overcome gluttony, fast; to overcome anger, learn to forgive; to overcome envy, to be good; to overcome laziness, to get up and help others. These are good penances for Lent.
All piety and mortification exercises are designed to free us from sin. Fasting strengthens the spirit and the will so that disordered passions (gluttony, anger, envy, pride, greed, lust, laziness) do not dominate our life and conduct.
Prayer strengthens the soul in the fight against sin. Jesus taught: ?? Is it necessary to pray always without ever failing to do it ?? (Lc 18,1b); ?? Watch and pray that you will not enter into temptation ?? (Mt 26.41a); ?? Ask and it will be given to you ?? (Mt 7.7). And São Paulo recommended: ?? Pray without ceasing ?? (I Ts 5.17).
The Word of God teaches us: ?? It is good to pray together with fasting and giving alms is worth more than collecting gold treasures, because almsgiving frees from death, and it is the one that erases sins, and makes us find mercy and eternal life?? (Tb 12, 8-9).
?? The water puts out the blazing fire, and the alms endure sins ?? (Eclo 3.33). ?? End alms in the bosom of the poor, and she will pray for you to deliver you from all evil ?? (Eclo 29.15).
So, each one should do a “program” in Lent spiritual: do the fast you can (each is different from the other); it can be partial or total. You can, for example, stop watching TV, stop going to a party, having fun, not eating a food you like or a drink; not saying a word at the time of anger or annoyance, not talking about yourself, giving others a turn at church, in line, on the bus; be meek and considerate of others, forgive everyone, sleep a little less, pray more, go to Holy Mass during the week… Anyway, there are a thousand ways to do good penances that help us to strengthen the spirit so that it is not suffocated and crushed by body and matter.