Wednesday, March 22, 2006

What does Lent mean to you?

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For the past several weeks, I've been contemplating on the meaning of Lent. I've been praying. I've been meditating.

I've been wanting to ask...what does Lent mean to you?

I really want to know.

This morning, I felt the urge to come back to this blog and share with you my thoughts about the Lenten season...

As Christians, we've all observed the Lenten season and celebrated Easter. Some observe the season more faithfully than others.

As a child, I cried a lot during the Lenten season. I cried for Jesus Christ. I pitied Him hanging on the cross. I cried on Good Fridays, while witnessing re-enactments of Jesus' death. I tried to feel the pain that He felt. But I knew my little heart couldn't fully comprehend the depth of His suffering and His love for us.

While growing up, I have observed what I call the "highlights" of the season -- Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, and the Holy Week leading to Easter Sunday. I can honestly say that I've observed them religiously year after year.

In fact, at some points in my life, I've gotten deeply involved, or should I say 'fully immersed' in the spirit of the season. My Mother has always had and continues to have a strong (positive) influence in me.

She would always tell us to abstain from meat (and fun snacks) every Fridays, especially Good Friday, and give up TV, sports and other fun activities.

In my teenaged years, I would join my Mom on a number of special Lenten activities - such as joining her in a procession that goes around the town for a couple of hours.

We would walk several miles while continuously praying the Holy Rosary and singing Ave Maria songs. The procession displayed life-size figurines depicting scenes during Christ's suffering - including the Last Supper, the Carrying of the Cross, and Jesus in the Holy Sepulchre. The houses along the path of the procession had candles lit by the gates. People watched and prayed with us.

On Good Fridays, instead of praying the Stations of the Cross in one church my Mom and I, together with our Sacred Heart prayer group, would visit 14 churches where we prayed one station per church. At the end of the trip, we settle down in our Sacred Heart Chapel and pray the Holy Rosary 3 times.

On Good Saturdays, we held prayer vigils all day long that lasted until the following day - Easter Sunday - the day of the Resurrection. And on this day, we heard the Easter Mass, we celebrated and feasted!

It was all good. The whole Lenten experience always has some kind of cathartic effect on me. My Mom would always say that "Jesus Christ has suffered and died for us. We must make sacrifices for the forgiveness of our sins."

Yes, as a child I did cry for Jesus. And I made the sacrifices, which I prayed would be worthy of Jesus' attention, and which I hoped would help "lighten" Jesus' load.

At that time, the whole essence of Lent for me boiled down to: "If I sin less and other people sin less then Jesus wouldn't have to suffer as much. Jesus' cross was made heavier by the weight of our sins. We could all do our fair share in lightening Jesus' load, by sinning less."

But as I grew older, I begin to realize while it is right to aim to sin less, I am certainly not "saving" Jesus, by doing so. The entire goal isn't about lightening Jesus' load.

Jesus already died. And He died for us. He died to save us.

Jesus doesn't need to be saved. But we do.

I should be crying not for Jesus...but for my sins, and for the sins of the world.

I knew deep in my heart that the tears I cried for Jesus as a child were tears of love...but I now, more than ever, I realize that it should not stop there.

The love that I feel for Him should translate to something tangible. It should lead me into "forgiving" and "asking for forgiveness."

I must forgive those who have offended me and hurt me...

I must ask forgiveness for my sins, for having offended God and my neighbors...

I must forgive myself.

This Lenten season, we are reminded to "forgive" and to "ask forgiveness" so that, just like Christ, we may be reunited with God our Father.

We need to to forgive others so we can "lighten our load," and we need to "unburden our hearts" and ask forgiveness for ous sins so that we may become closer to our God.

God's message this Lenten season is all about us - His love for us.

And today, a simple concept came to mind and that concept is about "Cleansing."

We all know the value of proper 'cleansing' in restoring our health.

The way cleansing (through juicing, proper diet, etc.) rids our bodies of toxins, forgiving and seeking God's mercy rid our souls of sins and impurities that keep us away from our God.

"To err is human. To forgive divine."

Lent indeed is a beautiful season. It provides us with that wonderful opportunity to go through a "cleansing" process.

The scriptures remind us of what Jesus has given up - His very own life - in order to save us. And on his cross, Jesus uttered the words: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

Lent allows us to look deep into our hearts...to realize to our human-ness, to admit to our sins, and to ask for forgiveness. At the same time, it reminds us of our divinity. As children of God, we must do as Our Father does and follow the example set by Jesus.

We must forgive.

We must forgive so that our sins too may be forgiven.

Am not sure I'm making sense to you.

Perhaps, you already knew this. I thought I did, too.

But things have become so much clearer to me with this simple concept: Cleansing.

Yes, cleansing is a simple concept, yet one that is critical to restoring our health. We give up some of the food we love (like chocolates, steak, etc.) in order to restore the natural balance in our system and allow our bodies to function better.

Forgiveness, just like cleansing, is an important key to "restoring" our life and reuniting us with God. God loves us so much that He is always willing to forgive our sins and to welcome us with open arms into His Kingdom.

All the fasting and abstinence, alms, and confessions that we're asked to do as Christians all make better sense to me now.

All these truly are such a small price for what we stand to gain -- our eternal salvation or eternal union with our Loving God.

May you find peace in your hearts and minds this Lenten season and beyond.

Blessings!

Ann

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