End Of Lent

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It is rather an  unusual  title for an article   posted at the  beginning of  the lent. End   is more important than beginning.  Even while admitting that ‘ the end does not  justify the means’  we should  bear in our  mind that ‘all’s well that ends well’.  End is more important than  the beginning as well as  the means we employ to reach the end, with the caveat that the  means should be those permitted by God.

We are  entering Lent  and it is all about fasting and praying. Is Lent an end or means to an end? By all means, it is a means to  reach a higher goal.  To know what the goal is, we should  check with those who  subjected themselves to  the rigours of  fasting. Let us start with Jesus who  was in the wilderness  for forty days. It was  no ordinary  fasting.  Look how the gospel  describes it; ‘Jesus, full of  Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was  led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.  He ate nothing at all during  those days, and when they were over, he  was famished’ (Lk 4: 1-2).

We do fast during Lent. But  most of  us reach nowhere near how Jesus fasted.  Some of us refrain from  taking food  one time every day. Some  avoid  two meals a day. And  some,very rarely, following Jesus in the  true way,  abstain from all food for the entire period of Lent. Though fasting is limited to food, in  a broader sense abstinence from anything which used to give us pleasure  supplements our efforts.   Whatever be the  type of fasting,our intention is to  reach the  end where Lent should take us. 

Now what is  the purpose of  fasting and praying? Jesus used those forty days of  fast  and prayer as a diving board to  commence  his mission.  We read that  immediately after the  temptation in the wilderness, Jesus returned to Galilee to begin his preaching with  the simple words; “Repent, for the  kingdom of  heaven has come near” (Mt 4:17). 

Often we think that the tempter  was patiently waiting  for forty days to  approach  Jesus and once  that period was over pounced on him  and  offered humanly irresistible  temptations to  distract him from the holy mission of preaching the  gospel.  No. Luke says that he was tempted  for forty days. In Mark’s words, ‘he was in the wilderness  forty days, tempted by Satan’ (Mk 1:12). Perhaps Satan was present there well before Jesus reached the wilderness. The tempter was  determined to  block the  spread of the gospel, because he knew that those who listen to the gospel and live accordingly  will be saved, which  is the  last thing he would like. 

Lesson one. Be prepared to meet the  tempter anywhere in your  journey through this Lent. It can be in the beginning, midway or  in the final moments when we feel a sense of   certain triumph  in  our hearts. Do not be  self assured till the  very last moment. Because the tempter knows the most appropriate time and situation to   trap us.  Those three temptations we read in the gospels were the  culmination of a series of  temptations – big and small – that he offered Jesus.  In fact  many people testify that the most crucial period of  fasting  is the first few days. It is the most  difficult to overcome. Once this period is  over, things become easier,  though fasting  need not be  a  smooth sail even after that.

How did  Jesus face  all those temptations for forty days on end? Or what was the driving force that made him stand against  those seemingly irresistible  offers?  Naturally we would be inclined to think that  it was his  fast and  prayer that helped  him to   ward off  temptations. That is only part of the story. Major reason  lies somewhere else.  Let us  go back to  Luke’s narration of the  temptation. There,  we  read that   ‘Jesus, full of  the Holy Spirit, returned  from Jordan’.  This is the most important single factor  that contributed to the success of Jesus’ fast  and prayer. He  commenced  the arduous journey  that lasted forty days, keeping sufficient  fuel in the vehicle. He was burning with the fire of Holy Spirit, the  eternal source of non perishable energy.

Lesson two. If you are  serious about  reaping any benefit out of  this Lenten fast, start it with  the help of  the Holy Spirit. Elsewhere Jesus said that we cannot do anything without  Him. It is the Spirit that gives life; flesh is useless. We live in flesh and we cannot combat flesh with  flesh.  Only thing   capable of conquering the flesh  is the power of Holy Spirit. ‘The spirit  indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’ (Mt 26:41).  With this weak flesh, we need the  power of  Holy Spirit  to win  this race.

Jesus commenced his journey full of the Holy Spirit, then faced those three  major temptations and  came out triumphant.  Many Christians  think that  the Holy Spirit dropped Jesus in the wilderness to be  tempted by Satan for forty days and after the appointed time, came back and took  him to  Galilee.  But the Scripture gives a different picture. Luke says that ‘for the next forty days he was led by the  Spirit in the wilderness’.  It was the Holy Spirit who was leading  Jesus in every step and at  every moment during those forty days.  Jesus started with the Holy Spirit and he persevered with the help of  the Holy Spirit. Victory was but a  foregone conclusion.

Lesson three. Always  ask for the  help of the Holy Spirit. It is foolish to  think that  we can  come out successful at the end of  this Lent with our own  power. If  we have the Holy Spirit working with us   and within us,  the evil one will not  touch us.

Prayer with fasting  is something dear  to God. That is  why, Moses did it for forty days to make  him worthy to  receive the tablets containing ten commandments. ‘When I went up the mountain to receive the stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant that the  Lord made with you, I remained on the mountain forty days and forty  nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water’ (Deut.9:9).  When  Moses returned to his people with the tablets, what awaited him was a  golden calf and an entire population dancing around it.  ‘So he  took hold of the  two tablets and flung them from his two hands, smashing them before the eyes of the Israelites’ (Deut 9:17).

Lesson four.  As long as you live a   secluded life   and continue    fasting and prayer, you need not worry about anything.  But when you return to your family, your congregation, your church, your society, your neighborhood, never expect that  you will get a warm welcome. The reason is simple. You only fasted and you only  prayed. All others whom you are going to meet are those very same  people. They have not  fasted, they  have not prayed. And they  have  no issue in exchanging the glory of  their God with a worthless idol. So at the end of any fasting  prayer, it is wise to expect  the unexpected.

Normally forty days of  fasting  was  adequate. But for Moses,  everything had to be repeated, this time  as  penance for the sins of his people. ‘Throughout  the forty days and forty nights that I  lay prostrate before the  Lord when the Lord intended to destroy you, I prayed to the Lord and said, “Lord God, do not destroy the  people  who are your  very own possession, whom you redeemed in your greatness, whom you brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand” (Deut 9:25-26.) At the end of this   second  fasting, God again gave him the  commandments written on two tablets.

Lesson five. Fasting  is not for you alone. It is equally beneficial  for  others. In fact, it is one of the surest ways to do penance and reparation for the  sins of your loved ones, and  society at large. We have  the example of Nineve, where the king and  his nobles led the people of  the city  in fasting and praying. As a result, ‘God changed  his mind about the calamities  that he  had said  he would bring upon then; and did not do it’ (Jon 3:10). If there are sufficient people in a place ready to prostrate before the Lord, that place will be   saved.

When the devil realized that  he  could not  trap  Jesus into temptations, he simply  left the place, or we think so. In fact  the gospel tells us that  ‘the devil departed  from Jesus  until an opportune time’. Perseverance is a virtue of  the devil too. He will  wait any long and he will employ  any weapon in   his quiver to  pluck  a soul from  Lord’s  garden.  Even while you think that  you have  conquered a temptation, be on your guard. Your enemy  is scheming another trap for you.  He will lay it at the  opportune time, and if you are not vigilant enough, you  might end up in  his  net.

Lesson six.  Never underestimate the power of  evil. He will pounce on us  at the  most opportune time, when we are  weak, when we are not vigilant, when we are given to  dissipation and drunkenness. If he laid in wait to  trap even Jesus at an opportune time, he will attack us also. 

Now we are coming to the most important  question. What did Jesus benefit from his forty days of  fast and prayer?  What did he gain by steadfastly standing up to the vile advances of  his rival? Or what  did he do  after coming out of the wilderness?

‘Then Jesus,  filled with the  power of the  Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a  report about him spread through all the surrounding  country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone’ (Lk 4:14-15). Those forty days of fasting and prayer saw Jesus strengthened in  Spirit. We do not  know exactly how a report about  Jesus spread through all the country. But  we know one thing, that the news about a person who is filled with the power of  Holy Spirit will spread  like wildfire.  This is a mystery  of the Holy Spirit. Like the fragrance of a flower  permeating  its surroundings, the  fire of the Holy Spirit   in us will be  manifested in a mysterious way  so as to  be visible to  those around us. Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit immediately  began to teach. He commenced  his  preaching with a  few simple words; “Repent,  for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 4:17).

Lesson seven. The most important benefit  of the twin remedies of prayer  and fasting applied together   is that we will  be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit at its end. This power of the Spirit should be channelled to  proclaim the good news to  others.  This is essentially  what  God  expects from us. I am not denying the other benefits of  fasting. You may  be able to come out of  some  evils or bad habits. You may be better disposed physically after fasting. You might even  get slimmer  after  a prolonged fasting.   But  remember; we are not  talking about  a fasting for physical healing or weight  loss. If these are your primary goals at the time of  fasting, I have nothing to say except what Paul said to Corinthians; “If  for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” ( 1 Cor. 15:19).

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, fasting is a spiritual weapon  for  us. The  end of Lent  should bring out  the  reinvigorated  Christian    in each one of us. We are undertaking this Lenten fasting  not for  breaking it at Easter Vigil. Rather  it should cultivate in us  a fervent desire to proclaim that  our  Lord has  risen. This is  possible only when we are filled with the power of  the Holy Spirit. 

Come, let us  join the millions of Christians across the world, who  approach this coming  Lent with a  contrite heart. Be mindful of the  words of Isaiah. “Is such the fast  that I  choose,   a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a  bulrush, and to lie in  sackcloth and  ashes?” (Isa 58:5). It is a  warning to those who perform all those  exterior requirements of  fasting but  remain  rebellious in their hearts. True fast is something else. ‘ Is not this the fast I choose: to  loose  the  bonds of injustice, to undo the  thongs of the yoke, to let the  oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry  and  bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from  your own kin?” (Isa.58:6-7) 

Come, let us dedicate this Lenten fast for the  sanctification of self and others,  as penance for  our sins as also that  of others and  to prevent the hand of God  from falling  upon us.  Above all, begin this Lent with the full power of  Holy Spirit as Jesus did. Receiving the Holy Eucharist after a  good confession  is the  best thing we can  do on the  first day of Lent. Sacraments are the channels  through which we receive  the graces of  the Holy Spirit. 

Go through every moment of these  blessed days with the  help of  the Holy Spirit. Stand up to  the temptations of  the  devil and come out victorious,  fully charged to proclaim the  gospel to the world.  May the  spirit of penance, sacrifice and  reparation be the  hallmarks of this  Lent. We do not know whether we will get another Lent to repent and return.   And we do not know  how much time is left for us to take the gospel to the whole world, which is one of the conditions our Lord has given us to be fulfilled before  his glorious second coming.

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