It’s that time of year, again. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. But, how many of us really get excited about Lent? This rich Catholic tradition has been around since the days of the early Church. At that time, Christians would fast for two days, then join an all-night vigil celebration ending on Easter. Over time, Lent became a period of spiritual renewal during the weeks before Easter. By the Middle Ages, on the first day of Lent, sinners publicly declared themselves penitents and were sprinkled with ashes as a sign of their repentance. Then, they fasted for 40 days to recall Jesus’ time in the desert (Matthew 4:2), and the fasts of Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8). But, no matter how traditions may have changed over the years, the purpose of Lent remains the same: preparing ourselves to celebrate the great mystery of our faith at Easter, the Paschal Mystery – the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
During Lent, we focus on three essential elements: meaningful forms of penance, especially positive ones like charity and community service to help change our heart and foster a greater love for God; personal choices for spiritual renewal such as prayer and fasting; and recalling our Baptismal Vows to remember what it means to be a child of God. Our goal during Lent is not to lose weight by giving up certain foods. The purpose of Lent is to acknowledge our human weaknesses and undergo a spiritual revival to grow closer to God. We do this through a meaningful Lent by doing penance.
Our Catechism tells us penance “can be expressed in many and various ways…above all, three forms: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving” (CCC 1434). Now, I’ve tried fasting and almsgiving (giving money to feed and house the poor). But this year, I want to do something different – I want to give more time to the Lord. Instead of giving up favorite foods, social media, or smart technology, I’ll take precious time out of my daily life and spend it in prayer talking to God. What about you? Have you decided yet? How about giving some of your time to the Lord? After all, when is the last time you spent time in front of the Blessed Sacrament during Adoration and received the solemn blessing we call Benediction? Attended a weekday Mass? Prayed a rosary? Joined Mary as she walked the Sorrowful Way, the Stations of the Cross, following Jesus on the road to Calvary? Or just fell on your knees and thanked God for something? Even if it’s only 5 minutes, Jesus will take whatever time you give Him.
May you have a Happy Lent becoming a better, holier, more loving follower of Christ.