Lent is not just a period established for personal improvement, intended for one to temporarily give up a vice or lose a few pounds, nor is it necessarily about becoming a better individual Christian, although that should happen. Lent, instead, is a period of intense spiritual preparation. This is a Catholic's 40 days on Mount Sinai (see Ex 24:12, 34:28, and Dt 9:9), where we uniquely meet with God, as Moses did, and we can reflect on the commandments of the Father and how we have responded to them. It is our 40 years in the wilderness (see Dt 8:2-3) where we enter into humility and acknowledge our faults and dependence on the Lord, as the Israelites did, and now we do, as God's adopted children. Lent is our 40 days in the desert where we will be tempted (see Mt 4:1, Mk 1:12-13, Lk 4:1-2) as Christ was and, having relied on the Holy Spirit and the Holy Angels, we can emerge prepared to resist Satan and proclaim the Kingdom of God. Lent is the premier time for Christians to develop spiritually for our individual and collective ministries so that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and according to the will of the Father, we may build up the body of Christ. This, however, may only be accomplished if we follow the model established for us in Scripture and reinforced by Holy Mother Church.

In the cases of Moses, the Israelites, and Christ Jesus, within their 40 days (or years in the case of the Israelites), a common theme emerges: fasting. Moses went to the top of Mount Sinai where "he was with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water" (Ex 34:24). Yet after Moses had this experience, he was radiant, and his "face shone." While we may not literally shine, we can emulate his fasting to become closer to God as he was. The Church teaches that fasting, along with prayer and almsgiving, is the highest form of exterior penance that "expresses the conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others" (CCC 2043). We must, therefore, fast and allow ourselves to be converted and let our faces shine by His glory.

For the Israelites, God, in his providence, allowed them to hunger so that they would be humbled. Likewise, we must humble ourselves before the Lord by fasting so that we too may learn that "man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord." (Dt. 8-3). The Church describes fasting as voluntary self-denial (CCC 1438), and in denying ourselves what we think we need, God shows us what our needs are and that only He can fulfill them.

Lastly, Christ has given us the most prominent example of fasting when he spent 40 days in the desert. There, he "fasted for forty days and forty nights" (Mt 4:2). Scripture makes no concessions to the fact that the fast was difficult; Christ, it says, was "left hungry" afterward. The effect, however, was not what one may think, and instead of weakening Jesus, it strengthened Him to resist the temptations of the devil. Fasting is the fourth precept of the Church (CCC 2043) and is described as helping us to "acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart." Jesus had mastery over these basic instincts and so was able to reject the temptations of Satan; we must do the same.

Guided by the Spirit, we must enter our desert these 40 days and fast. Through this voluntary sacrifice, this humble act of penance, we will enter into a spiritual preparation for the ultimate combat, strengthened and able to resist the temptations of the devil. Then, guided by the Holy Spirit, with Christ as our exemplar, we may say to others also, "do penance for the Kingdom of God is at hand" (Mt 4:17).

Matthew Weller — SFA Theologians Guild Member