What is Lent?
Lent is the liturgical season of forty days which begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with the celebration of the Paschal Mystery (Easter Triduum). Lent is the primary penitential season in the Church’s liturgical year, reflecting the forty days Jesus spent in the desert in fasting and prayer (CCC, Glossary, Lent, p. 886).
Through the season of Lent, the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. As the letter to the Hebrews (4:15) points out, “[W]e have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning.” Throughout this holy season the Church’s liturgy re-reads the great events of salvation history leading up to THE saving event: the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus (the Paschal Mystery).
Our entrance into the Paschal Mystery is the sacrament of baptism. This forty days is preparation for the catechumens who will enter the life of the Church through baptism at the Easter Vigil. It is also a time for each of us to renew and unlock the gift of our own baptism. Baptism, like all of the Sacraments, directs or orients us to the source and summit of the faith, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharist. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the Paschal Mystery of Jesus re-presented (made present) for us in time.
How do I live Lent well?
Jesus and therefore the Church holds out to us three biblical practices for living Lent well: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Prayer is about loving God, fasting is about loving yourself, and almsgiving is about loving others. Lent, therefore, is all about love.
Prayer is simply the raising of the heart and mind to God. Prayer is seeking friendship and union with God. It can be exercised in many forms - meditation, contemplation, conversation, thanksgiving, praise, intercession, etc. Whatever helps us to lift our hearts and minds to God is good prayer. Here are some ideas and resources on prayer.
Fasting is the practice of abstaining partially or wholly from food and drink as an expression of interior penance. It is a powerful spiritual and biblical practice. We fast in order to discipline our bodily appetites. Fasting helps us to learn and practice self-mastery. We can also fast from other things in our lives - social media, looking at my phone every two minutes, Netflix, TV in general, etc. This world is a non-stop cacophony of stimulation and we need to take advantage of this holy season and regain control over what we consume - from food to media. Fasting or disciplining our desires opens up in us the call of the deepest desire of my heart; the desire for God. This desire can be drowned out at times by the more immediate and tempting desires of the flesh, the world, and the devil. Fasting gives us back our direction and aim - God Himself.
Almsgiving is about letting God use me to bless others. You could give money, or your time, or your talents to others or in service to others. Find a charitable organization to which you can donate some of your money. Find a charitable way to give of your time to others - family, friends, or the lonely among us. Find some way to build others up and make a lasting difference in the world around you. One suggestion is to make a list of 40 people, one for each day, and pray for them or better yet write them a note of encouragement or best yet do both.
Choose one exercise from each of these biblical practices to help you grow in your love of God, of self, and of others this Lent. Jesus talks about repentance quite often and it is always in the context of today (now). Do not wait; do not let this Lent pass you by. Allow the external practices of Lent to do their job and bring about interior repentance and conversion. We must always remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
May we prepare our hearts to receive an ever deeper outpouring of God’s love, so we may share that love with others.
Below are three info graphs from catholic-link.org. Here is the link to them.
The three temptations of Jesus correspond to the temptations that all of us face in our day to day life. The temptations Jesus endured all came from without, whereas ours come from without and sometimes from within our fallen nature, but they still provide us with the correct response to overcome them and to be strengthened by them when resisted.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” It is the temptation to focus on the pleasures of the body and the joys of the material world exclusively. That is we try to find our happiness in pleasures and things of the world. And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’ ” So following Jesus’ example and response, focus on heavenly things. Fast from material things and spend time in the Bible and prayer, in order to become more attentive to the supernatural things of heaven that lead to true happiness and joy. Pray for the supernatural virtue of faith.
“To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.” The devil tempts Jesus to worship him with the promise of giving Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. The temptation for us is to seek power in our relationships with God and others. Our pride of desiring to be first and well liked. “But the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” We make idols of the things of our life and worship them with our time. And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’ ” Later on Jesus says, “seek first the Kingdom of God and everything shall be given to you.” Let your penance and prayer during Lent lead you to surrender your life to God. Seek to serve God and others. Self-sacrifice leads to the joy of the kingdom experienced already here on earth. Pray for the supernatural virtue of love (selfless).
Then he “set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Do some miracles and then we will believe. Show us the Father and then we will believe. This reminds me of praying for something to happen and then when it does happen saying never mind God I didn’t need your help after all. Why did God allow this to happen? Why did He make me this way? Why do I have to suffer? Where is God? And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ” Instead of the question why, ask the question who. “To whom shall we go Lord you have the words of eternal life.” Meet God in the little graces and gifts throughout the day. Trust Him in all circumstances. “Everything works for the good for those who love God.” Surrender your life to God and trust even in the difficult times that God is powerfully at work through His transformative grace. He purifies and perfects us through suffering (His own on the Cross and ours united with Him) to be His disciples and to enter in to our heavenly homeland. Pray for the supernatural virtue of hope.
Through your Lenten observances allow God to become the center of your life. Refocus your life on heavenly things. A life rightly ordered towards our eternal homeland is able to use the things of the earth to give Glory to God and in service to our neighbors. Enter the desert of Lent - simplify and order your life towards Heaven and experience God's deep abiding peace.
May you have a blessed Lent!
The beautiful season of Lent is upon us - Ash Wednesday is February 10th. It is a season of renewal and conversion. Let’s not let it go by without taking advantage of such a rich opportunity. God gives many wonderful graces during this season. He is calling each of us to take the next step with Him on the path of discipleship. Here are some thoughts to get you started. Let’s pray for each other!!
Come up with a plan that is prudent for your state of life and schedule it into your day.
Daily Meditations: Dynamic Catholic follows the Rediscover Jesus book we offered at Christmas (http://dynamiccatholic.com/bestlentever/); Bishop Barron’s daily reflections (http://www.lentreflections.com/); RedeemedOnline (http://redeemedonline.com/); EWTN has some good resources (http://www.ewtn.com/faith/lent/).
The spiritual work you put into Lent will bear many fruits, because Jesus is a generous giver. Take a step in faith and Trust in God!
I am a Catholic priest writing about Catholic things.