At the beginning of Lent, many Catholics are beginning to plan how they will use this penitential season to detach themselves from the bonds of sin through the three pillars of Lent: Prayer, Almsgiving, and Fasting. In considering this time in the life of the Church, it is instructive and fascinating to look at how saints would spend their Lent.
From a 14th century manuscript called “Fioretti di San Francesco” or the “The Little Flowers of St. Francis”, we hear a story about how the great Saint Francis of Assisi spent one his Lents completely alone, on a small island in a lake, eating nothing more than a half loaf of bread for the whole 40 days.
The Fioretti reads:
How St Francis kept Lent on an island in the Lake of Perugia
Once on a time, St Francis on the day of the carnival went to the Lake of Perugia, to the house of one of his disciples, where he was entertained for the night, and there he was inspired by God to pass this Lent on an island in the lake. Wherefore St Francis prayed his disciple, that for the love of Christ he would carry him across in his little boat to an island in the lake where no one inhabited, and that he would do this on the night of Ash Wednesday, so that no one might know of it. Then the other, for the great love and devotion he bore to St Francis, solicitous to grant his request, carried him to the said island, and St Francis took nothing with him but two little loaves.
And when they had arrived at the island, and his friend was about to return to his home, St Francis earnestly besought him not to reveal to anyone what he should do, and not to come again till Holy Thursday. So his friend departed, and St. Francis remained alone; and there being no habitation into which he could retire, he entered into a thicket, where many trees and shrubs had formed a hiding-place, resembling a little hut: and in this shelter he disposed himself to prayer and to the contemplation of heavenly things.
And he remained there the whole of Lent, without eating or drinking, except the half of one of those little loaves, as was witnessed by his disciple when he returned to him on Holy Thursday, who found, of the two loaves, one entire, and the half of the other. It is believed that St Francis so refrained from eating out of reverence for the fasting of the blessed Christ, who fasted forty days and forty nights without taking any material food; and thus with that half loaf he kept from himself the poison of vainglory, and after the example of Christ he fasted forty days and forty nights.
And afterwards, in this spot, where St Francis had sustained this marvellous abstinence, God granted many miracles through his merits; for which cause men began to build houses there, arid to inhabit them; and in a short time there was built a large and prosperous village, and the house for the brothers, which is still called the House of the Island. And to this day the men and women of the village have great reverence and devotion for the spot where St Francis made this Lent.
While God might not be calling you to spend Lent on a solitary island in a literal sense, he certainly is calling all of us to a greater focus on our relationship with Him and a detachment from earthly pleasures. We will be praying for you during these 40 days–that you are able to enter into the Lenten season with a desire to grow in love of the Lord.