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.
I am a Catholic priest writing about Catholic things.