Lent is the Season of the Heart

Suzanne Cooke, RSCJ
I think it is a marvelous coincidence that this year Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day because Lent is essentially a season of the heart. These days leading up to Easter offer us the time to pause and consider the health of our hearts, that is our capacity to love.
I think it is a marvelous coincidence that this year Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day because Lent is essentially a season of the heart. These days leading up to Easter offer us the time to pause and consider the health of our hearts, that is our capacity to love.
 
To conduct an honest assessment of our capacity to love, we need certain practices – prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The three form an important dynamic that if we take seriously, we can emerge from Lent strengthened in our capacity to love because our hearts have been opened to the grace of God’s love.
 
Let’s begin with almsgiving.  I am not sure most of us really know what this practice means. Historically, alms is money or food given to people in need.  If we trace the root of the word to Greek, we learn that alms comes from the Greek words that mean compassionate and mercy.  Giving to another as an act of faith and love opens our hearts.  We stretch ourselves when we give of our time, talent and/or treasure.  In this time of such focus on “me” and “what I want”, sharing with those who are in need opens our hearts up to the genuine need of others to be respected, honored and loved.  Our acts of love in the form of “alms” contribute to our capacity to be open to the mercy and love of God.
 
Fasting is a willing abstinence or reduction from some or all food, drink or both, for a period of time.  The idea is that by feeling hungry, we might think of those who go hungry daily.  More conscious of people in need, we are moved to pray for them.  Fasting is not meant to be dieting.  Something that might help bring meaning to fasting for us is to abstain from actions, habits and/attitudes which harm our relationships with others.  Lent is an ideal time to re-examine how we communicate with one another.  Do our words and actions demonstrate our respect for the people in our lives? If we truly believe that each person is the image of God, if we honestly sense the spark of the Divine in each person’s heart, then how we speak to each other and approach one another would be marked by a profound reverence. Lent is the time to ask ourselves are our relationships demonstrative of respect.
 
The final Lenten spiritual practice is prayer.  As we re-examine our manner with others, we also are called to look at how we are with God.  Do we take time with God.  Prayer is simply that…time in silence, time in conversation with God. Padre Pio said that, “Prayer is oxygen for the soul.”  How are we breathing; how are we with God? What is getting in the way of my personal sense of being loved by God?  This is the essential question of Lent. We know that the Resurrection has occurred.  In Christ we see the fulfillment of the Father’s promise of love.  God waits upon us to respond to this love. Consider prayer as time with God just as we spend time with those we love.
 
Some see Lent as the dreary season.  I see Lent as a Season of Hope.  Each of these days offers us an opportunity to prepare for Easter by serious discernment about our lives, with particular sensitivity to the Spirit of God in our Hearts. Celebrate today’s Valentine’s Day by attending to your hearts in deciding that Lent’s call to prayer, fasting and works of love is one you will answer.  God is counting on us just as St. Paul explains in today’s second reading:
 
Brothers and sisters:
We are ambassadors for Christ,
as if God were appealing through us.
 
I benefit from the encouragement of knowing we are praying for one another during these days. I also value three resources, which I offer you:
 
Spiritual resoourcess offered by the Online Ministries of Creighton University http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/online.html

Year of Prayer from the Religious of the Sacred Heart: https://rscj.org/year-prayer

Suzanne Cooke, RSCJ
 is Head of the Conference of Sacred Heart Education
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Schools of the Sacred Heart share in the educational mission of the Society of the Sacred Heart as articulated in the Goals and Criteria. The structure supporting Sacred Heart education in Canada and the United States includes the Conference of Sacred Heart Education and the Network of Sacred Heart Schools.  Together they provide services and programs to ensure vitality of mission for the member schools sponsored by the Society of the Sacred Heart.