Days ago I posted: “My Facebook account is signing off starting this Wednesday… that season.. those reasons.” It has hit numerous “likes”, several “comments” and a handful of messages in my inbox. It is amusing that the “reactions” are varied, from simple affirmation to misconstrued observation. But to those who have understood well the rationale of my post, their common reaction was that of a “sad face.”
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. It is not uncommon that some would perceive this season to be really of a “sad face”. Apparently this perception has been inferred from the images that this particular season is always associated with – “abo”, “kuaresma”, “penitencia”, “krus”, “Biyernes Santo”, “Hudas”, “Pilato”, “latigo”, among others. To a great degree (and unfortunately at that), Lent could indeed be about sad faces. This is only that tiny face of Lent though. There is more to the Lenten Season than just to become “sad faced”.
Foremost, Lent is an opportunity. For Pope Francis, it a favorable time. “Lent is a favorable season for deepening our spiritual life… a season for renewing our encounter with Christ.” In other words, Lent is that kind of of invitation to go deeper into human experiences, to make a sense on the nitty-gritties, and, perhaps more importantly, to find love even in the obscurity of human struggles and failures. Perhaps in a more profound manner, Lent is that time when we commit our energy “more for the soul,… and less for the self”.
To make the season favorably meaningful, Lent offers three-wheeler traditional practices – prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It must be deemed as three-wheeler since they are intimately related. Taken separately would actually spoil the Lenten flavor. It must necessarily be prayer, fasting and almsgiving… “pray… fast… and give.” For St. Augustine, fasting and almsgiving are the “wings” of prayer. Prayer without charity could be hypocrisy. Fasting without prayer is fancy and vanity rolled into one (read: dieting to become slim and sexy). Giving sans spirituality is mere philanthropic (or worse, politics,). On the other hand, prayer leads to sacrifice and dependence on God. It leads to fasting because we are confident of God’s providence. Consequently, with prayer and fasting we become attentive to the needs of the brethren. And therefore, we could manifest compassion to them. It is making their needs as our own needs too.
Yet, we are reminded of two things as we make these Lenten observances : 1) “…wash your face, comb your hair… do not look gloomy… and 2) “Do not blow a trumpet… go to your inner room…” (Mt. 6:1-18) Meaning, happiness and hiddenness are the marks of a true and meaningful season. So when praying, fasting and giving … do not proclaim it, do not look stern and righteous. Instead, smile and go about your day happy. “And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
Moreover, Pope Francis, in his 2017 Lenten Message, alerts us not “to become rich” (referring to the story of Lazarus and the rich man). The rich man failed to recognized Lazarus as a brother, much less as a person. He failed to recognized God as well. He did not have time for God. In fact, there was no place for God in his life. His only god was himself. “The rich man’s real problem thus comes to the fore. At the root of all his ills was the failure to heed God’s word. As a result, he no longer loved God and grew to despise his neighbor.” Lazarus, on the other hand, “becomes a face, and as such, a gift, a priceless treasure, a human being whom God loves and cares for, despite his concrete condition as an outcast.”
Going back to Facebook. A Harvard study shows that “self disclosure” produces a response in the region of the brain associated with dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure or the anticipation of a reward.” Facebook and all other self-disclosing arena like Twitter, Instagram, among others, could really be pleasurable. Hence, I fast. Hopefully,I fast so that there could be more time to pray. Consequently, I fast to give more chance of giving, even just giving attention to the one who would need somebody to listen to. And I would do so, perhaps, not with a sad face.
Happy Lenten Season to all.