As citizens of a country that greatly reveres Christianity and religion, we have all grown up aware of, and even very much involved in, the Lenten season.
For those of us who belong to the older generation, we recall the days of Lent and the Holy Week at the end of these 40 days mostly spent solemnly, sans noise and distractions.
Such a time, however, seems incomprehensible for today’s generation, whose sense of normalcy is a fast-paced lifestyle, mainly attributed to the effects of modern technology.
How then do Filipinos today observe the season of Lent?
Lent and the youth
Lent is literally defined as the 40-day period of preparation for Holy Week and Easter Sunday. According to Catholic Church teachings, the season should be observed with prayer, fasting and abstinence. It should also be a time of personal sacrifice, which, in today’s reality, where everything can be done and had in an instant, seems difficult to do, especially for the youth.
Father Larry Tan, SDB, who works closely with the youth through different organizations at the Don Bosco Technical Institute, is well aware of this fact. Thankfully, the man of God has a gift of getting through to the youth who feel they can relate to him.
Nevertheless, he told The Sunday Times Magazine that Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday, is still given reverence by Filipinos as a whole.
“I don’t see any significant difference or change in how lent is celebrated in the Church today. The essentials are set and the traditions are standard. Although the practices may no longer be as intense and austere as in the past, the spirit of Lent is basically the same,” he observed.
He does acknowledge, however, that many young Filipinos seem disinterested in observing the Lenten season, not because they intentionally refuse to, but most likely because they are unaware of its significance.
“Religious ignorance is one of the biggest problems of the church today. If they [the youth]are not taught, how will they know [about Lent]? If they do not know, how will they understand? If they do not understand, how can they become good and honest Christians today?”
Asked how he defines Lent to his students, he replied, “I tell them that we celebrate Lent to make us aware of the cost Jesus paid to save us from sin; to make us accept Jesus Christ as our Lord; and to make us act on our faith and live it as a loving response to Jesus by dedicating ourselves to spiritual renewal.”
While some would like to think that the advent of social media may take away the essence of Lent and the Church in general, Fr. Tan actually sees it is a good way to reach out to today’s generation.
“Social media has tremendously influenced our society today. Little by little, the Church is beginning to realize how important social media is in spreading the Word as evidenced by Pope Francis who has his own Facebook and Twitter accounts.”
He further emphasized that it is not only the youth who need to rediscover the true meaning of Lent but also those who belong to older generations. Fr. Tan believes that everyone, at this time, should be reminded to spend more time with Jesus through prayer, and encouraged to reflect on their lives and the world around them.
Lent and renewal
It has been four months since the country was brought down to its knees with the devastation of Super Typhoon Yolanda. And since then, the nation has seen the hand of God working through kind-hearted individuals and organizations from within the Philippines and around the world to help rebuild Central Visayas.
According to Fr. Tan, however, the Philippines has not only been struck by natural disasters such as Typhoon Yolanda, but is also in the thick of moral decay.
“Worse than these physical calamities is the moral decay of our society: the graft and corruption in government, the PDAF [Priority Development Assistance Fund] and DAP [Disbursement Acceleration Program] scandals that have robbed and rocked the country,” he lamented. “We are the most Catholic nation in Asia, but the prevalence of corruption and crime is a shame to us as people.”
And while both of these situations may be disheartening, Fr. Tan believes that Lent is the best time to heal and hopefully correct what is wrong in the country today.
“It is the appropriate period that should help us to renew ourselves spiritually and return to the Lord,” he related.
The first step is to admit our wrongdoings, and repent by asking the Lord and those who have been wronged for forgiveness. And if the mistake can be undone, the repentant should strive to do so.
If admission and repentance from those who have robbed the country’s coffers and deprived Filipinos of genuine public service seems to be impossible, Fr. Tan still has the faith that ordinary Filipinos can do so by being honest at work, and being fair to others.
Healing, according to the man of God, is one of the greatest benefits of the season, not only for those who have sinned, but also for those who have been in the receiving end of pain.
“It is quite impossible to go through life without being hurt and without hurting others.
The only way to patch up and make up is to let go of the hurt and let God touch our strained relationships.”
Forgiveness, he cited, is at the core of being whole again. “The key to healing is to forgive from the heart. When we hurt, it leaves a psychological scar. The scar leaves when we forgive those who hurt us to the point of loving them as Christ loves and forgave them. It is during the Lenten season that Jesus shows us the way toward wellness and wholeness.”
With all this said, Fr. Tan can only hope that the Lenten season will inspire Filipinos, young and old, to become more than just listeners of the Word, but doers of the Word.
To open up and experience the true love manifested by Jesus on the cross will effectively lead to one’s transformation.
“Hopefully, the understanding of the love of Jesus and what He did for us will help us become more authentic followers of Christ. That we can all be transformed to the point of Christian authenticity, of being more than just hearers, but also doers.”
Photos by Rene Dilan, Ruy Martinez, Miguel de Guzman and Edwin Muli