Feasting in Lent

Even though Lent is about to begin, many of us have not given much thought yet to what we’re going to give up for Lent. While fasting remains a pillar of Lenten observance, I would like to suggest that this Lent that you do some feasting as well.  I mean feasting on the word of God.

The Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent presents us with Jesus in the wilderness, resisting the devil’s temptation to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger.  Jesus answers: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Although Jesus abstained from food for forty days, he nourished himself on the word of God—in fact his words were a quotation from Deuteronomy 8:3.

Catholic are used to talking about receiving nourishment through the Holy Eucharist.  We are less accustomed to speaking about feeding on the words of Sacred Scripture, but it’s the faith of our Church: “The force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church,… the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life” (Dei Verbum 21).

Since he came to office, Pope Benedict has repeatedly urged Catholics to rediscover lectio divina, the prayerful reading of Scripture, most recently in his Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini.  He says if we do, he is confident “it will bring to the Church a new spiritual springtime.”

I recommend that every Catholic adopt the practice of feeding daily on Scripture this Lent.  Those who do are likely to make it a year-round and lifelong practice.  Why? Because I know of no other discipline that brings as much energy and strength to a person’s spiritual life.

I am a complete glutton for this kind of feasting.  I may even double my consumption of this food during Lent!

What Scriptures shall we read during Lent?  Of course, the daily Mass readings are great.  However, I would like to suggest a Scriptural course for your menu alongside the seasonal readings.

I suggest reading through a Gospel slowly, meditating on the life of Christ and on how Jesus is calling us to follow him.  I can think of no better way of deepening our discipleship.

In order to overcome the common problem of over-familiarity with the Gospel stories, I recommend reading them with the help of a commentary that can provide fresh insight into what we’re reading.

I especially recommend the brand new Gospel of Matthew by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri (apt for Year A) or the slightly shorter Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy of the Catholic Commentary.  Both provide the biblical text accompanied by very helpful and often inspiring explanation.  By reading only six or seven pages a day, perhaps fifteen minutes a day, one can read through an entire volume during Lent and come away with a much deeper understanding of the life of Jesus and of how he is calling us to follow him.

It’s important that people read at the pace they find most helpful for digesting God’s word.  For some, that will mean reading faster and for others more slowly.  If you “fall behind” in your reading, when Holy Week begins, skip ahead to read the final chapters describing Christ’s Passion.  Save the final chapter on the Resurrection for Easter Week.  Then go back and read the parts of Christ’s life you missed.

Questions for personal reflection or group discussion about the Catholic Commentary are available online as well as suggestions about using it for lectio divina.  For my personal reading of Scripture I personally prefer to ask myself a few simple questions:

  1. What is this passage saying about God?
  2. What is it telling me about human beings?
  3. What is this passage showing me about myself?
  4. What does the Lord want me to do about it?

As you decide how you are going to observe this holy season, the following words from Holy Father’s message for Lent 2011 may be helpful:

In order to undertake more seriously our journey towards Easter and prepare ourselves to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord – the most joyous and solemn feast of the entire liturgical year – what could be more appropriate than allowing ourselves to be guided by the Word of God?

However, the Holy Spirit may leads you to on God’s Word this Lent, I only wish to add this: Bon appétit!



Filed under Peter Williamson

3 responses to “Feasting in Lent

  1. A very helpful reminder, particularly to a culture which so often tries to compartmentalize various aspects of our lives. It’s not even that we are strictly dualist in that we tend to think of our bodies as objects for us to rule over, instead of integral parts of ourselves, but we have this notion that our work life is separate from our home life and both separate from our spiritual life. I think we all wish to be men and women of integrity, yet this fractioning of our lives tends to lead us precisely away from that.

    This is the beauty of God’s plan for us, which is reflected in His church. We are fed from the two tables: Scripture and Eucharist, so as to nourish all aspects of our selves.

    A challenge went out from one of my pastors at one point. He said that as a congregation, we expect that he would have reflected on the Sunday readings prior to Mass, and would have prepared a homily based on this prayerful reflection of these readings. He then stopped and let us know that he expects this from us, too.

    We are called to active participation in the Mass. Yet, what are we doing to prepare ourselves for Mass? We know that the Holy Spirit speaks to us when the Scriptures are proclaimed, but are we familiarizing ourselves with them ahead of time, so that we are better able to understand what He is saying to us when we hear it?

    Perhaps thinking of a homily is a good way to start to go about diving into the Mass readings. What is God telling me through the OT reading, Psalm, NT reading, and Gospel? What is He telling us as a parish family? What connections do I see between the various Scripture passages?

    As far as these readings for the first Sunday in Lent, while I note that there is a lot which speaks of sin and temptation, what draws me today is the overwhelming sense of hope that I hear in these passages. In the reading from Genesis we hear, “The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” Right there, we learn something about God. Not only did He make man. Not only did He give us His life. But look at the manner in which He did it. We know (as we pray every Mass) that if He but say the word, we can be healed.

    Yet, He did not decide to speak a word and have man come into being.

    He “blew into his nostrils.” That is very personal and very intimate. He did not want a distant relationship with us. We wouldn’t think of having a mere acquaintance or even a friend blow into our nostrils. So, doesn’t this point to a deeper relationship that we should expect and seek after with the Lord? And if He is going to create me in such an intimate way, should I not have hope that, although I may sin, He cares for me?

    The Gospel is also a comfort, as well as a calling to us. Throughout every trial and temptation that we may face, if we but cling to that Scripture, “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God,” we will know that we need not be anxious. God will provide.
    The calling, I think, comes in the anaolgy of the bread. We live on the Word of God as we do bread. However, even if we were in a room filled with bread, if we were not to take some and eat it, we would still starve to death. Also, bread does not come to us in prepackaged loafs which we can pluck from a tree, but the wheat must be harvested, processed and baked.

    So, too with Scripture, I think the Lord wants us to take it and work with it. Struggle with it. Pray with it. And then consume it. Take it inside ourselves and let it nourish us.

    The more of the Word of God which we can interiorize, the better nourished we will be.

  2. Peter S. Willliamson


  3. Pingback: Feasting through Holy Week | Speaking of Scripture: Conversation about the word of God in the life and mission of the Church

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