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A writer once said that Christmas is a hard time for the poor. The season has become too extravagant, too elegant, and too expensive that only the rich now truly enjoy this season! The poor shepherds, the poor stable and the poor Christ have all become symbols nobody wants to identify with.

Lent may be another hard time… for sinners. This season is for repentance and reconciliation, for forgiveness and renewal – all nice words, good ideas.

People bite into the tradition mode, coming out in droves for devotions, processions, pilgrimages, and rituals. Many join the activities for the free T-shirts, the travel, and of course, the food. The real upsurge noted is the number of people each year who make Holy Week a picnic, a beach party or a time to escape the heat by going abroad. Who really cares about fasting, prayer and charitable works? It is getting harder to go through Lent without getting lost in the peripherals and non-essentials.

Our readings guide our sinful, wayward hearts so that Lent will not be a hard exercise but a smooth road towards a deepening relationship with the Lord. The reason why many people get distracted during Lent is because we forget the real focus of the season. We think that it is all about what we do for the Lord when in fact, it is just the exact opposite.

The first reading reminds us of the deep desire of the Father to reach us and embrace us tenderly in his love. “I have witnessed the affliction of my people… I know well what they are suffering… I have come down to rescue them….” We are an active, energetic, mobile people and so we want to be in control of every detail of our lives. What do you think will happen if we allow the Lord to act in us this Lent – to feel our pains, to touch us where we are hurting most, to deliver us from all our fears? Will there not be real healing and conversion in our lives?

The gospel relates to us Jesus’ parable of the barren fig tree, which the gardener refuses to cut down, instead giving it another chance to blossom and bear fruit in the future. God is willing to take his chances on us. He keeps the door open for us to enter and bask in his mercy and love. Will it not make a difference if this Lent we make conscious efforts to recognize how we are constantly embraced by God and lavished with his graces? Will not our hearts overflow with thanksgiving and humility?

Lent does not have to be a hard time for us, if only we accept the truth that “the Lord is kind and merciful.”