From the day we're born, you and I are bombarded by commercials and advertisements whose sole purpose is to get us to want more, to purchase more, to have more for ourselves. "More" somehow seems better. "More" keeps our consumer society going.
Well, Lent is not about "more." It's about "less." Lent is about simplifying our lives, about emptying ourselves, our hearts as well as our stomachs! Lent is about walking a 40-day journey with Jesus. It's about looking for ways to rid ourselves of the constant desire for "more" : whether the "more" is chocolate, caffeine, video games, cell phones, beer, cigarettes, supersize food servings, gossiping...you name it!
To walk this journey with Jesus, we must rid ourselves of many things. We must empty our hearts of distractions. We must resist the ads that turn our wants into needs. Only if we empty ourselves can we become fit companions of Jesus. Only when we stop thinking of ourselves can we make room for others. That's what Jesus did with his 40-day fast. That's how he found the strength to journey with others, to teach them, to heal them, to free them from their ignorance and raise their consciousness. He emptied himself to create room for others.
The point of our emptying ourselves this Lent, of simplifying our lives, is not to glorify pain and deprivation. We don't die to life or to love. We die to the forces that diminish life and love. The Jesus who tells us "blessed are the hungry" is the same Jesus who adds immediately, "for they shall be filled." Our Gospel is not a Gospel of hunger or emptiness for its own sake; nor is it simply a message of pain and suffering. Our Gospel is the "Good News." It is about emptiness for awhile, about hunger and sadness only for the moment. Our Gospel is a Gospel of bread for our hunger, of healing for our distress, of life even while death surrounds us.
The only point of suffering for us who walk this Lenten journey with Jesus is to achieve a greater life. The only purpose of pain is to deepen our capacity to love others. The only value of darkness is to appreciate the Light. Lent is negative in order to make something positive happen. Whether it does or not is up to us. The invitation is about to be placed on our foreheads. We are being marked by ashes so we can become the Easter people!