Psalm 51 instills reflects the spirit of this season which is that of change and renewal:
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your holy spirit take not from me.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
We pray for the kind of interior renewal that only God’s grace can provide. God’s creative power can remake our hearts and give us back a spirit that longs for God’s presence and the joy of God’s salvation. This is the spirit of Lent, the spirit that a deeper prayer life encourages within us. The season is not about giving up something for God, but about desiring God again, so that He may remake our hearts.
We often think of Lent in terms of self-inflicted suffering and glum acts of penance. But a persistent spirit of sadness and gloominess is not a Christian one. In the gospel reading for Ash Wednesday, Jesus urges us to fast without glumness, to pray without vanity, and to give alms without smugness. Jesus advocates these traditional practices of Lent not so that we will receive a reward from God or praise from anyone else. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, as encouraged by Jesus, are ways of seeking God and responding to His presence.
Fasting and giving up things during Lent can help keep our lives and spirits free from over-attachments to the things of this world and more sensitive to hearing God’s voice in our lives. Daily prayer can cultivate the quiet focus and purity of heart so necessary to being open to God’s presence and action in our lives. Almsgiving, which includes giving of ourselves and of our goods to others, allows our hearts to be expanded and less selfish. All of these changes are possible and such a renewal within us should be evident of a Lent well spent.