The Heart of Lent

Last weekend, during all the masses, our choir lead us in a beautiful praise & worship song called “The Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman.   In that song, we are called to make sure that when we come to worship our God, that we are focused on Him and not allowing anything to get in the way.  The song implores us to be sure that when we come to worship our Lord, we are opening our heart to him and are fully attentive in our worship.  As the chorus says, we should make sure that “It’s all about you\It’s all about you, Jesus”.

It strikes me that this is a great song for us to use as reflection during Lent as well.  As we prepare ourselves for Easter, are we approaching our Lenten preparation prayerfully and reverently, or are we checking things off of a list: things that we’re ‘supposed to do’ because we’re Catholic?

One of the most common conversations that many of us Catholics have during Lent, is with people (non-Catholics, but let’s be honest also a lot of other Catholics) about the value of giving up meat on Friday.  The argument that I hear from a lot of people who don’t do it is, “Do you think God really cares if I’m eating meat or not?”  The problem is that approach misses the entire point of why we are giving up meat.

The beginning of the chorus of “The Heart of Worship” perfectly expresses how we should be approaching our fasting (or any other preparations for Easter) during Lent.

 I’ll bring You more than a song,
for a song in itself
is not what You have required.
You search much deeper within,
through the way things appear,
You’re looking into my heart.

 ‘The song’ in this case is abstaining from meat.  To just go through the motions, or check something off the list, is not what God requires or asks of us.  He is looking into our heart, “through the way things appear”, desperately longing to be closer to us.  This is the mistake that we make when we ask if God cares that we’re eating meat or not; we are focusing too much on whether we eat meat or not, and not on God and our relationship with him.  The act of abstaining from meat is itself a prayer; something we can offer to God out of love and reverence.  It is a way that we can open our heart to him and bring ourselves into a deeper relationship with him.

If we are standing in line at a restaurant trying to decide whether to order the fish sandwich or just get a cheeseburger, and the only thing we’re trying to decide is whether God cares which one we eat, then we’ve already missed the point.  If we order the fish sandwich purely out of guilt just because we’re supposed to, then we’re missing an opportunity.  He wants us to bring him more than just a meatless Friday, for (if I may paraphrase) a meatless Friday in itself is not what he has required. He wants us to bring him ourselves.  He wants us to be standing in line at that restaurant and instead of ordering fish out of guilt and frustration, he wants us to engage in prayer, and open up a line of communication with him right at that moment.  He wants us to eat the fish because it can be an intentional act of prayer and sacrifice.  And we are intentional about our sacrifices and our prayer, as opposed to robotic actions done without thought, we are naturally brought closer to Him.

What if every time we were eating a meal on a Friday in Lent, as part of our grace before that meal, we prayed to God to open our heart to him, and we took just two minutes to look into our own hearts and souls and ask him to reshape us where needed, and give us strength to be the person that He made us to be?  What if we carried this over to every meal?  That would truly be a way for us to return to the heart of what it means to fast during Lent.

Of course, this approach can be applied to all aspects of our faith. What is our approach\attitude towards confession? Are we going simply to check it off the list?  Or are we approaching it as a way to grow closer to Jesus?  When we receive the Eucharist at Mass, as we process up are we focusing on being humble before Christ, and the aspects in our life where the Precious Body and Blood can strengthen and sustain us; or is our mind wandering?

Let’s use these last few weeks of Lent to refocus ourselves on getting back to the heart of preparing for Easter; to the Heart of Jesus.  Let’s be very intentional about our prayer, fasting and almsgiving so that we may, as Father Steven likes to say, experience an Easter filled with joy (and sweet-tasting chocolate).

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