By Fr. Erik Esparza
March begins our Lenten Journey! It is a holy time. It is a true gift given to us by our God. It is a grace filled moment to look at our lives and reflect on how we miss the mark or come up short. This extra time of reflection is not to be used to despair in our shortcomings. Rather we are to focus our attention on the immeasurable mercy of God, which reminds and encourages us to never give up but to begin again.
It is often asked in Lent, “What are you giving up?” There are the classic choices like chocolate, soda, dessert, smoking, drinking. With technology in excessive use some have decided to give up the use of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter or to cut back on the amount of time on the Internet and television. Any amount of sacrifice is notable and can be helpful to the spiritual journey, but understanding the reason for our sacrifice should be of greater importance. You see, the Season of Lent is more than giving up something for a period of time and then over indulging after the season is over. The reason for fasting is to help us to use our valuable time and energy, which is often bombarded by distractions and daily activities, to be more focused on the Lord and His mission for us. Fasting enables us to listen more attentively to the message of the Lord, rather than the message of the world. Fasting enables us to be “others centered” and not merely self-centered. The prophet Isaiah captures the type of fasting that God desires. Isaiah focuses on fasting that helps us to refocus our lives on the things that really matter in the eyes of God, reaching out to one another.
Like Jesus you are led into the desert. Although you may not literally be in a desert, the invitation to prayer, fasting and almsgiving gives, like a desert, the opportunity, time, space and focus to escape the noise and distractions of the world to be more attentive to your personnel walk with God. Often times in our relationship with God we settle for the minimum and shy away from sacrifice. When we do desire to give more, it is always on our own terms and with conditions. We prefer popularity to virtuous living. Rather than seeking the absolute truth of God we prefer picking and choosing what suits us right here and now. Instead of seeking God’s will to be done, we favor our own will to be done. We choose pride over humility and give only a part of our heart when God asks for the whole.
Lent is a time to change attitudes and behaviors that lead away from God to a way of life that helps us to grow closer to God. So remember, when you consider giving up or adding something to your life this Lent, ask yourself one question, “Will this help my soul to grow closer to God?” If the answer is no, it’s not too late to consider something else that will better help you to return to God with your whole heart!
Fr. Erik Esparza is Associatte Director of Priest Personnel in the Diocese of San Bernardino.