Did you know by the 2nd Century, Christians prepared for the annual celebration of Easter by fasting for two days? This was the natural thing to do in preparation for the holiest of times when the Early Christians expected Jesus’ immediate return. By the 3rd Century, this fasting was extended to all of Holy Week. The 40 days of Lent, we know it today, began sometime in the early 4th Century.
Lent is that time of year when we buckle down, don’t eat meat on Fridays, and “give up something”. We call this “penance”. We do penance to remind us that suffering a little bit can make us a better person. Through this suffering, we come to appreciate what we have and realize we can really do more with less. Our Catechism tells us penance “can be expressed in many and various ways…above all three forms: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving (CCC 1434.)”
When looking for something to “give up” during Lent, let’s remember the goal is to acknowledge our weaknesses so we can undergo a spiritual revival to grow closer to God. Doing penance without reflecting on how it can change us for the better misses the whole point of Lent. If we deny ourselves a favorite food to develop the self-discipline for spiritual renewal – that’s good! But if we “give up” that same tasty treat during Lent as a motive to lose a few pounds, well, we should probably think again.
Lent emphasizes three very specific aspects of personal choice for spiritual renewal. These are prayer, fasting; and recalling our Baptismal Vows to remember what it means to belong to God’s people. “Giving up” something can include giving up our time to do Corporal Works of Mercy – feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned, giving to the poor, and burying the dead. Burying the dead can be as simple as attending a funeral for someone you don’t know, especially if their funeral is not well attended. Doing Corporal Works of Mercy helps foster conversion of our heart by instilling a greater love for God and others.
Lent is a time of preparation to help us find our ourselves and encounter God. May you have a Blessed Lenten Season with our Lord! Deacon John