Well Lent is upon us again - much sooner this year. We have hardly had time to forget our new year resolutions and we have to start something new to punish ourselves with. There’s the traditional, prayer, fasting and almsgiving; going to Mass more often, or an extra rosary, or no drinking or eating chocolate. Then there’s the new fad of doing something positive, some act of social justice, rather than just giving up something that does no one or anything any good except perhaps your waistline or your pocket. I will probably do the same thing this Lent as I did last year, the same thing that I have done for a few years, but hopefully this year I will be able to do it with a different intention and determination. I was reading an interview with an 80-year-old Chinese Bishop, Julius Jia Zhiguo. He has been imprisoned on various occasions because he has ordained priests without government approval and I was struck by his simplicity and gentleness; the embodiment of legendary oriental courtesy. But there was also in him this simplicity, this sureness of faith and humility of action, and when asked what kept his faith alive, he answered, “all we needed was to have God in our heart”. How simple. How profound. How difficult! Lent in many ways is no different from any other time: we will still have the same things to do; looking after the family, our work, our shopping, our recreation, and on top of all of that there will be the extra religious practices, the frustration of not managing to persevere, or the surprises that jump out on us and upset our routine. And all the while as we go on worrying about all the things that we have to do, thinking about the next thing we have to fit in before we can get a rest, there is this man living in an oasis of peace because he has God in his heart. It’s almost as if he can stop the world and get off for a time; something I’m sure we all wish we could do!
There are very few who can up sticks and throw in their job, and move to some remote part of the world and begin again with a much more tranquil life, and know the peace that we can all feel is missing from life. But what strikes me about Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo is that he lives a fairly full life, even at 80. He isn’t left alone to enjoy the evening of his life, but he has the peace, he takes it with him, he doesn’t need to go anywhere to find it; it has come to him. And it is surely because he has God in his heart.
That must be what Lent is for. All the penances we take on, the extra things we do, unless they help us place God in our heart and find him there, then come the end of Lent, we will have wandered off and not be standing beside Christ on the cross, or hear about the resurrection. We will be too busy adding more stress to our life and complaining that we never have any time to ourselves or any peace and asking what our faith is all about.
That is what it is all about: having God in our heart. We do tend to complicate things, we think because we are sophisticated if a thing is worthwhile, it too has to be complicated, but nothing could be more simple, more profound, more difficult and yet to be able to have God in our heart.