The Lenten life

The manner in which we live and endure our earthly lives, is almost always taken for granted. As if endurance were not enough. Life perhaps to many of us, has become predictable, typical and in most ways, observable.

We witnessed what our parents did, what their parents did, all in the hope of fulfilling a normal human existence. We in turn, live the same lives over and over again, never questioning or changing the patterns of the life-process in the name of tradition and practicality.

We live lives according a rhythm of finding meaning in the joys and sorrows of our earthly journey, and going through a number of rites-of-passage that supposedly helps each generation to comprehend changes in individual lives.

Unfortunately, with each passing generation, the zeal of the rhythm gradually loses itself in the quagmire of history, leaving the rhythm to play by itself, with us dancing to the music of a forgotten and neglected past.

We also live lives prevailed upon by matters of money. Money has always been important to our survival, much like stone weapons in ancient times. We are born into the world; we eat and drink ourselves to a spiritual stupor; we sleep every day; we study and learn to obtain the “better life”.

We then work for more than half our years, spending and saving for our children, and finally passing on to silent contemplation of past errors, wrong decisions and missed opportunities.

We have always believed that this life is the only life, and that there is no other way to live it. It is indeed difficult to imagine that there are other ways. Life is then for most of us, a “single, big opportunity whose greatest potential must be achieved, because there are no second chances”.

A nun sprinkles ash on a cyclist during Ash Wednesday Mass at a church in Manila on Feb.17, marking the start of Lenten season in the Catholic Church calendar. (Photo by Jam Sta Rosa/AFP)
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Is it because we live life only once that we are inclined to think only of ourselves?

Is it because there are “no second chances”, that we are relentlessly driven to “efficiency” much more than “purpose”, to “obtain the most in the least possible time”? Are we deeply compelled to more than just a “competitive spirit”, that the “fullness of human life” can only be achieved with a “win-or-lose” mindset, that success is only possible at the cost of beastly ferocity?

Is it because we live life only once that we are anxious of leaving a legacy of sorts?

Is it because we live life only once that we justify our craving for life’s pleasures and our “need” to indulge in it as much as we can?

Is it because we live life only once that we rationalize the consequences of our frivolities, instead of confronting the pain caused by the mistakes we made?

Is it because we believe and act as if there is only one life to live, that pride, war, hatred, selfishness, persecution, obscenity, indifference and despair exist?

Can we not see the irony that in thinking there is only one life to live and each one must “make the best of it”, we are all being driven instead to making each other’s lives miserable?

Clearly, it follows then that we should not think of only one life.  We should believe in living more than one life — perhaps “living two lives” at the same time.

If you knew you had enough time, if you knew you will always be given a “second chance”, would you care so much as to making it “perfect” in the first try? Would you care so much as to what this life has to offer? Would you care so much only about yourself, or would you then have time for others? Would you then have time for the kingdom of God?

Archbishop Poola Anthony of Hyderabad sprinkles ashes on the head of Catholics due to COVID-19 pandemic during an Ash Wednesday service at St. Mary’s Basilica in Secunderabad on Feb. 17. (Photo by Noah Seelam/AFP)

It is in the hope of a greater life that we begin to think about peace, that we begin to accept being mocked because we call and stand for peace.

It is in the hope of a greater life that we allow ourselves to be humbled for others’ sake, that we can now understand and try loving our enemies.

It is in the hope of a greater life that we find the courage to suffer, to forgive and even forget as well.

It is in the hope of a greater life that we find the strength to be responsible for our mistakes, to remain chaste and faithful to one’s love.

It is in the hope of a greater life that we are inspired to comprehend the just destiny of humanity, to empathize with the present human condition, and to serve as best as we can, those who are in desperate need.

Every year, the season of Lent reminds us that there is a greater life to be lived, a life made so precious by the victory on Calvary. We are not choosing to remember only the sorrow of our Lord’s death on the cross, or only the ecstasy of his resurrection; we are called to live it. The miracle of the beginning of this second, more important life requires the telling and retelling of the whole story of his Passion: from suffering given to God, to the glory given by God. One complements the other, in the same way the importance of food is much more deeply felt in direct proportion to the gravity of the hunger that preceded it.

If our lives are then to have meaning; if we desire peace, love, humility, chastity, forgiveness, selflessness and an everlasting ethos for our future brethren that their lives can be lived differently — for each other rather than against each other —should we not live the “Lenten life” throughout the year, instead of only for a season? Are not the promises of God worth a life lived in prayer and charity?

Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of

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