A time to listen: Why we fast during Lent
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published in April 2012. Rappler is republishing this to mark Holy Week 2018.
Lent is a very special season.
What makes it especially special is that we are made to do things that make us more aware of our Christian faith in an intense and palpable way. We are asked to fast and abstain, pray, and do penance. We are asked to examine our selves and change our ways. We are pulled in to ourselves in meditation, and pushed out of ourselves to do more almsgiving.
In the olden days, they used to cover all the statues in Church with purple cloth that gave a depressing effect, that feeling of being abandoned by the saints, that sense of emptiness, that blankness in the heart.
As we enter Holy Week, let us review what the whole Lenten season is all about.
All through Lent, we are being challenged by the principle to cut down on the things that we ordinarily and usually think we cannot do without, and to realize, at least once a year, that we can actually do without them.
And so, it has come to mean less meat and less food. Less comforts and less security. And the spirit of it all is pursued in other little things as well: less soda or less ice-cream or less chocolate; less beer and less booze; less movies, less TV, less novels, less gossip, less socials, less parties, and the list can go on and on.
The idea is to cut down – not just for cutting down's sake; and not just for self-discipline; and not just for proving to ourselves that we can do without things; and not just because the Church requires it. I think that cutting down is done in order to make a little more room in our hearts for one another, and also maybe a little more room for God.
I think it is one of the best times of year to relax and take it easy, to go out and just enjoy each other's company. That’s what the word “lent” literally means. It does not refer to sacrifice and penance and self-abnegation. It refers to that time of year between winter and spring, when the days come with greater length, with greater "lent," and become longer than nights. And because there are more hours of light, there seems to be more time than usual, to relax a bit more, slow down, set aside the regular hassles. And so we have more time for each other. And it is the best time of year for friends to just take a walk, and talk.
Open your ears
But more importantly than just talk, it is also the best time of year to do what the Father tells us to do at the end of the narrative of the Transfiguration – to listen to Jesus, His Son! Open your ears. Be attentive. For a moment, drop those everyday concerns and hear.
And the Gospel is also teaching us to listen – not just to Jesus, but also to each other, and to realize how often we fail to really really listen, how we have let the trimmings get in the way; how we can allow the spectacles of a person's situation distract us from the person himself or herself; how we can say we talk, but we really do not listen, because listening is not about giving advice or counseling, but allowing the person to tell you where he or she is, and not where he or she should be, and how often we have let our good intentions get the better of us; how often we can hold our principles so fiercely that we are unable to hear where the other is coming from, and we are unaware that we have crossed the thin line between believing what we believe, and shutting out the rest of the world; how often we forget that listening is not just hearing a person’s words and ideas and principles and opinions, but hearing the eyes, and the movement of the hands, and the language of the body, and the rising and the ebbing of the voice, and the inflection and the accents of the sentence, and the twitching of the muscles, and the smiling or the frowning of the lips, and the pauses between the words, and how all this comes together in one person.
The reason that we cut down on things, the reason for momentarily doing away with routine and with the ordinary, the reason for abstinence and fasting and penance and the discipline of Lent is so that we might quiet things down in our hearts a bit, and just maybe, we might be able to hear each other more.
Because, when the music is turned up to full volume, when the TV is on and the show is engaging, when the telephone keeps ringing every half hour, when there are a million and one things to worry about, and the clock is not moving any slower, when we feel compelled to buy this and buy that, and get this and get that, and eat this and eat that, and drink this and drink that, there are so many things that make so much noise in our hearts.
And the noise blocks our hearing of each other's hearts. – Rappler.com
Father Jose Magadia, SJ, is general counsellor for formation of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits, based in Rome. He is former head of the Philippine Jesuits.