In the New Year many people decide to lose weight. There is often a nagging sense of guilt about over-indulgence at Christmas. We make a resolution to become fit and healthy.
In a few weeks time we will be celebrating Easter, when Christians all over the world recall their belief that Jesus, who died on the cross on Good Friday, rose from the dead. It is one of the big celebrations of the year.
In the Catholic tradition, we spend 40 days preparing for that great celebration. Forty days was the time Jesus spent in the desert as a preparation for his public mission, a time of prayer and fasting.
There are many examples in the Gospels of Jesus being mobbed by crowds of people looking to him to teach them, to heal them, to raise the dead. Also, we see many occasions when Jesus retreated to a quiet place to pray.
In the same way, Christians sometimes go away for a formal retreat in a monastery; a few days recollection, rest and prayer can bring refreshment to our daily lives, if our commitments allow. Everyone has their limits and everyone needs to find a place to retreat for a while.
During the 40 days of Lent we try to concentrate our efforts to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. With the example and experience of generations of saints we use the tried and tested means of prayer, fasting and alms-giving or works of charity.
Trying to be better Christians means getting back to basics; we are called to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
A time of daily prayer shows our love for God and gives us the opportunity to get to know him; silence gives us the room to open our eyes and ears to his presence.
Fasting is a form of self-discipline. St Paul speaks of the athletes who go into strict training to win a race. We love ourselves, not in a self-centred way, but aware of the dignity God has given us.
Works of charity remind us that faith is not a private affair, we have to put it into practice every day with kindness and patience.
The 40 days of Lent can seem, on the surface, to be a grim time of giving things up. But they are a chance to grow as human beings in our appreciation of life , of gratitude for the gifts of God and a challenge to play our part in helping others. May we all journey to Easter with renewed confidence in his love for us all.