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The wisdom of ascetics: Words for a Lenten journey

Suche Dni

Photo by Kamil Szumotalski on Unsplash

Daniel Esparza - published on 03/08/24

As Lent goes by, the wisdom of the great ascetics, those who dedicated their lives to true self-discipline, can offer valuable guidance.

Lent is a season commemorating the 40 days Jesus Christ spent fasting in the desert and enduring temptation by Satan, according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is observed by many Christians – Catholics included. As Lent goes by, the wisdom of the great ascetics (those who dedicated their lives to true self-discipline) can offer valuable guidance.

St. Augustine, a pillar of the early Church, emphasizes the transformative power of Lent. In his Confessions, he constantly talks about food ­– yet most of the time in a metaphorical sense. For example, he refers to memory as “the stomach of the soul.” Consequently, he reminds us that fasting is not just about food, but about what goes “inside” of us – our thoughts, our memories, our innermost self.  Needless to say, when we go “inside” our own selves, we have the chance to deepen our relationship with God.

Of course, not everything happens “on the inside.” St. Francis of Assisi, known for his simple life and deep love of God, emphasizes the importance of inner renewal, but from an active standpoint. That is, his is a call to other kind of action. In the Fioretti, a collection of legends and folklore that sprang up after St. Francis’ death, we find Francis advising his brothers to “begin to do what you want to end up doing.”  Lent is an opportunity to develop habits that will nourish our faith long after the season is over.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers, early Christian hermits who lived lives of austerity, offer practical advice for Lent. St. Anthony the Great, considered the father of monasticism, advises: “Let no day pass without doing some work for God.” This obviously resonates with the Catholic tradition of daily prayer and reflection during Lent – but is advice that can (and should) be applied all throughout the year.

St. Seraphim of Sarov, a revered Russian saint, gives the season a distinctive twist. He reminds us of the joy at the heart of Lent. He said, “Acquire the spirit of peace, and thousands will be saved around you.”

In fact, our own spiritual growth during Lent is not meant to be a burden, but a path to a deeper peace and a stronger sense of God’s presence in our lives. And, as you might have noticed, that presence radiates. Oftentimes, when we meet someone who has devoted him or herself to God, we can certainly feel a distinctive something – a special kind of joy. This joyful feeling is consistent with the Catholic understanding of Lent as a preparation for the glorious celebration of Easter.

By incorporating the wisdom of these ascetics and drawing strength from the Catholic traditions of prayer, penance, and almsgiving, we can squeeze the juice out of our Lenten journey. Let us use this season to draw closer to God, ultimately emerging from Lent renewed and ready to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.

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