When God became man, He humbled Himself by taking on a nature (that of the human being) within which change is necessary. He put aside the glory of His eternal perfection, and entered a state that, whilst natural to us, is not natural to God; a state in which He had to grow, progress in maturity and wisdom, and toil towards the accomplishment of a goal.
Every human being shares the common experience of existing in this mode of continual change and development, with its accompanying toil and strife. Christians though, are united by their striving, their willingness to undergo change, for eternal life. A Christian’s earthly life is one of actively working towards eternal life: the destiny that the Lord desires for every person, whether they realise it or not.
The possibility of our achieving eternal life was bought with Christ’s death. Christ’s very goal in taking on a human nature was the extreme suffering and tortuous death of crucifixion. In this sense, Christ can be said to be the only person who was born in order to die.
Lent, as it leads us towards the celebration of this great Mystery of our Redemption, is therefore especially a time for change. It is a time for proving our desire for Heaven by taking stock of our interior state and our exterior habits, and implementing practices that can help us to effect the changes that are needed.
The Church’s wisdom identifies three essential practices for spiritual growth: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Their principle aims are to increase our awareness of and desire for God, to help us gain greater mastery over ourselves, and to increase our detachment to material things. As such, Lenten practices most importantly are practices whose effects we should feel: practices that make a certain demand on us and so help us to achieve growth.
In the words of Pope St Clement I: “Let us fix our attention on the blood of Christ and recognise how precious it is to God his Father, since it was shed for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to all the world… let us hasten towards the goal of peace, set before us from the beginning. Let us keep our eyes firmly fixed on the Father and Creator of the whole universe, and hold fast to his splendid and transcendent gifts of peace and all his blessings.”