Lent begins with a memorable date

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Feb. 14, 2018. This date rings a bell in my mind as it probably does in yours, too.

It's — Ash Wednesday! In the liturgical calendar of Year B, the beginning of Lent.

Lent is a season of total surrender to God in fasting as well as penance, almsgiving and prayer. It is when we return to God from all our sinful ways.

But Feb. 14 is Valentine's Day every year — a day of showing love and care for our neighbors.

There is no better way to begin this year's Lent than to show love to our brothers and sisters. God is wise; indeed God is wisdom herself. What better way to begin Lent if not by being charitable to my fellow pilgrims on earth?

I ask myself, what comes to mind when Lent draws near? What am I to give up and take up? It is hard to give a specific answer to these questions because as time goes on, I will begin to realize that I have a lot of things I need to begin and end this Lenten season well. Here are some of the things I thought about, and there could be many more.

First, praying. Prayer is the lifeline of any human being. Even those who claim to be atheists need God. I need for my prayer life to connect me more to God, the source and summit of my being. For me, prayer is to be aware of and to be in touch with God, the supernatural being who fills me with lasting peace of mind.

There are many definitions of prayer, but the best definition is the one you give yourself. Being in touch with God and strengthening a constant connection with God is what Lent is calling us to do. Constantly returning to God should be my main goal this Lenten season, and not just during Lent, but every moment of my life.

Prayer is the only means I have to reach God. From there, I can reach out to others in order to show the fruits of my prayer. I cannot overemphasize the importance of prayer for beginning and ending this Lent well. What can one do without prayer, the only connecting channel to God and through God to my brothers and sisters?

Second, being charitable. This could also be called almsgiving, one of the three traditional dimensions recommended for us by the church every Lenten season. Among other things, being charitable implies a disposition to give without counting the cost. A lot of us have more than enough for our needs. This is the time to really look at our neighbors and show that God really cares for them. Let us be that instrument God will use to put smiles on their faces.

I will never forget my experience as a young girl during one of the Lenten seasons in my parish. One Sunday, my parish priest invited some orphans from their orphanage home to my parish.

During his homily, he asked us to give them whatever we had that they needed. In fact, he asked us to go home, putting ourselves in their shoes, and bring whatever we felt would be good for them.

I was moved to action. When I got home, I took off my beautiful Sunday clothes, wrapped them, and headed back to the church to give them to the orphans.

My action was not without some struggle. This was my beautiful dress. At last, I thanked God that I was able to give away something that I felt was reasonable.

Do you have anything so precious to you that you could not let go of it? What is it? When I struggled with giving up my beautiful Sunday wear, I asked God for help. That was the only way I was able to let go of my dress. We all need God's grace to be able to give without counting the cost. Remember that God has given all to us without reservation.

Third, forgiving. I feel so guilty when I say the Lord's Prayer. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." I ask myself, what have I done? This is because I have not forgiven some persons who have wronged me. How do I reconcile that with asking God for forgiveness? This has been my daily struggle as I keep trying to forgive wrongs done to me and to ask others for pardon for the wrongs I have done them.

Forgiveness sets me free. Freedom of the mind is essential in my daily interactions with others. Whenever I forgive anyone who has hurt me, I set both myself and the other person free.

And if I don't forgive, I don't pray well, since thinking about the person will be blocking my communication with God. Instead, God will be pointing out the person to me, telling me to set him or her free, and freeing myself to speak with God. Lack of forgiveness is like a chain that binds its victim's hands and feet. In order to unbind myself, I need the key called forgiveness.

Fourth, listening. Listening to God's word increases my faith. This Lenten season also calls us to live out God's words in our lives. By paying attention to God's words, we grow spiritually, by developing some inner attitudes.

Any attitude I develop by being attentive to God's word must improve my day-to-day relationship with others. It must make a significant difference in my life. Since the word of God is alive and active, I ought to act like someone who listened and took God's word to heart by my way of life.

[Teresa Anyabuike is a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur. She is the coordinator of Catholic Community Self-Help Association, a department in Justice Development and Peace Mission, Ilorin Diocese, Kwara State. She likes working with children because of their simplicity, which challenges her.]

Check out the latest from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious 2018.