As I was walking through the streets of the capital city yesterday, I noticed that confectioners were already displaying traditional Easter sweets. I was struck by this as we are only in the beginning of Lent. It is not yet time to celebrate Easter. Rather, it is time to embark on a personal and community journey in preparation for what Easter truly is: the resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ, His victory over death and sin. Easter is not about sweets, tradition and folklore. Being part of the MSSP community I am blessed to have learnt this and to experience it in a very powerful way every year. Indeed, Easter is the highlight of our life within our community. It is a period which we live together with great intensity both as a community and on an individual level, in parallel with the Church.
What is Lent?
Whereas in the past I did not understand Lent and the penance and abstinence I was told to make and which appeared to me to be meaningless, through my experience within the MSSP community, I have come to eagerly yearn for Lent and to view it is a precious time of prayer and renewal. Through the community I have learnt that it is a time to make space so as to immerse ourselves in the God’s infinite mercy and love. To do this, it is necessary to enter the desert.
The forty days of Lent provide us with an opportunity to enter the desert as Jesus Himself did. Before he began his ministry, Jesus went into the desert to fast and pray, so as to be able to remain one with God thereby being able to fight the devil and his temptations. We too are called to enter the desert during this time of Lent. We are called to remove that which seduces our heart, to create a silent space so as to enter into a more intimate relationship with God.
Easter is not about sweets, tradition and folklore. Being part of the MSSP community I am blessed to have learnt this and to experience it in a very powerful way every year. Indeed, Easter is the highlight of our life within our community. It is a period which we live together with great intensity both as a community and on an individual level, in parallel with the Church.
Entering the desert
It is in the silence and stillness of the desert, that we can let go of the fast paced life we live so that the voices of the world can be quelled. It is by creating this silence within us that we can hear His voice, allow Him to talk to us and to transform us. It is here that we meet His love in us and among us.
Fasting prayer and charity
Fasting, prayer and charity, the three pillars of Lent are tools that help in this journey. Fasting, which previously was presented to me as a meaningless abstinence of chocolate or sweets, has taken on a new meaning within the community. We are taught that Lent is a time to give up what is extra: be it food, an hour of sleep so as to gain an hour of prayer, time spent on social media or TV so as to create that special silence. This allows us to live what is essential: our communion with Him and with our brothers and sisters; to engage in prayer and charity. In Isaiah we find a description of the type of fasting God wants: “Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Is 58: 5-8).
Fasting is not a battle about whether I am able or not to resist a bar of chocolate. No amount of abstaining from chocolate will make up for our sin. Rather Lent is a time to get closer to God, or rather, to allow Him to get closer to us. It is a time for us to make space so as to acknowledge our vulnerabilities and sin thereby opening ourselves up to experiencing His infinite mercy, His love and forgiveness given to us so freely and abundantly. Rather than identifying with our sin, we open up to see a new image of ourselves as children of God. That is our identity. We are children of God. We are an Easter people because Jesus, through His resurrection, conquered sin and death.
Liturgy and prayer within the MSSP Community
In the MSSP community, we live Easter intensely. We start with the Ash Wednesday liturgy where we are reminded that we are starting a journey to transform ourselves from death to life. On the first Sunday of Lent we meet together for a short, yet powerful retreat. This year, we reflected on the liturgical time of Lent and Easter from a holistic and organic point of view. This talk, given by Fr Martin Cilia, explained the whole itinerary of Easter, from Ash Wednesday through Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum culminating in Pentecost, taking a look at the themes the Church offers us throughout these weeks. The talk was followed by time for personal reflection and the Eucharist. Fridays in Lent are very special. We start the day together meeting to pray at 6am and meeting again at 8.30pm for an Adoration of the Cross. Individual lectio groups also meet for moments of prayer as well as outreaches throughout Lent. Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum are lived intensively as are the fifty days until Pentecost.
Through the MSSP community I have experienced Lent more fully in preparation to live the Easter Triduum and the fifty days after Easter until Pentecost. Together with the community, we journey together with Jesus through the desert. In Isaiah we read: “See I am doing a new thing! … I am making a way in the desert” (Is 43: 16-19). And truly, when we enter the desert with Jesus He opens a new road from death to life. We emerge from Lent able to experience the true joy of Easter, the power of the love of God who renews life and who transforms us from ashes to fire.
Mrs Liza Padovani forms part of the MSSP Lay Community based at Oratorju MSSP (Malta).