Lent is always a time to experience God’s mercy, and in this jubilee year, even more so.
In conversation with ZENIT, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Major Penitentiary of the Holy Roman Church, pointed out the thread that unites fasting, the indulgences and the works of mercy. And he reminded that, also in this age marked by religious and social challenges, penance changes people’s hearts.
Part 2 of the interview will be published tomorrow.
ZENIT: Your Eminence, the Season of Lent is a penitential time par excellence. What worth does it assume during Jubilee Years?
Cardinal Piacenza: The Season of Lent is certainly typically penitential. Therefore, with the teacher of life that the Divine Liturgy is, in the first Sunday of Lent we are led with Jesus to the desert, the place of austerity, of asceticism and of great silence. To enter this desert of the spirit it is necessary to come out of the noise and the chatter, the preoccupations and dissipations of everyday, an effort must be made to bring about a reduction of multiplicity to the only thing necessary. The first Lenten penance is the re-conquest of interior silence, of sobriety, of the essential, of the primacy of the eternal over the ephemeral, of the permanent over the passing. It is almost a restoring of oneself, as we are and not as we seem. It is fruitful to be able to look at oneself in the mirror in one’s naked reality, stripped of appearances, of recitations, of amplifications, of lies. Then in the silence of oneself and in the desert of things, the Word will resound in all its constructive force.
That this Lent is inserted in the framework of a Holy Year as that proclaimed by Pope Francis, stimulates one ultimately to reflect on the elements that are per se constitutive and essential of a Jubilee: conversion, full return to God and, therefore, to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to the fruition of the inestimable gift of the Indulgence.
ZENIT: An aspect of the Season of Lent that is increasingly neglected is fasting. What can be done to re-launch this practice and to rediscover its spiritual value, which goes well beyond the simple abstention from food and its reduction?
Cardinal Piacenza: Fasting, united to prayer, almsgiving and to the other works of charity, has always belonged to the life and the penitential practice of the Church.
We must not think simply that to practice fasting means to subject oneself to certain renunciations in the matter of food and drink. If one abstains from some food or drink or if one limits its consumption in a spirit of sobriety, it is not for philosophical reasons or for ideological axioms limiting the faculty of choice but only to ensure better one’s freedom of spirit in face of the pretenses of our instincts. The practice of fasting helps to check our passions and to have our intelligence illumined by faith to moderate our impulses.
Related: Zenit’s Fr. McNamara explains the history, context and application of fasting and abstinence around the world.
Christian fasting is not practiced as an isolated act enclosed in itself. It must be accompanied – and in the Lenten liturgical texts the Church repeats it often – by prayer, by self-accusation of one’s faults and one’s defects, of merciful attention to the needy at all levels. True Christian fasting is always inspired by love towards Him who gave the whole of Himself, to the last drop of blood, to give us a divine life and an eternal beauty.