In just under two weeks, we will officially enter the season of Lent. The Catholic Church follows a Liturgical Calendar with three primary seasons: Advent (as we prepare for Christmas), Ordinary Time, and Lent (as we prepare for Easter). Each season has its own flavor and focus, with Lent calling us to conversation and repentance, renewing us and drawing us deeper into the life of Christ. In Lent, a forty-day period leading up to Holy Week and Easter Sunday, we call to mind the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4: 1-11, where following his Baptism in the Jordan, he goes out into the wilderness, praying and preparing to begin his ministry for forty days and forty nights. He is famished and tired, and after being tested by the devil, prevails victorious and returns to the community to call his disciples and begin his ministry.
Lent is our own forty days of entering into the desert, leaning deeper into our prayer life, as Jesus shows us, calling to mind our sins and unhealthy attachments and re-committing ourselves to living a life of holiness. In Lent, we make a conscious effort to eliminate negative behaviors or attachments by giving something up. I would also invite you to take this a step further by adding a new positive or prayerful habit in place of whatever it is you are giving up for Lent this year. If you do choose to give something up this year, I invite you to pause before automatically opting for screen time or junk food by truly reflecting on what would really draw you closer to God. If you do decide to give up time on Netflix or social media, for example, you might replace that time with time spent watching a religious video on FORMED, going for a daily walk outdoors while praying the Rosary, cooking a new meal using a recipe from Cooking with the Saints. These are just a few of the many ways to make intentional efforts toward renewed holiness this Lent.
There are several other Lenten traditions of the church including acts of fasting from meat on Fridays, almsgiving through charitable giving with the Rice Bowl, participating in the Stations of the Cross, and receiving God’s forgiveness through confession. These are all ways to draw us out of any spiritual dryness or complacency we might be facing and encourage us to grow in discipline and to push ourselves to continue placing our faith at the center of our lives.
St. Francis de Sales has this to say about this upcoming liturgical season: “Lent is the autumn of the spiritual life during which we gather fruit to keep us going for the rest of the year.”
I invite you to consider how you can grow and gather good fruit this Lenten season and know that you are in my prayers as we embark on another Lenten journey to the cross and ultimately, to the Resurrection of new life.
Last week, we talked about Lent starting soon (now in just under a week!). I introduced the biblical backdrop of Lent with the scriptural scene from Matthew 4: 1-11 of Jesus’ forty days in the desert after his Baptism before beginning his publish ministry. Lent is an invitation for us to enter into our own spiritual desert, evaluating the current state of our lives and the places where we can improve in holiness. One way to enter into Lent is by giving up something in our lives and replacing it was an action that can lead us closer to Christ. Our Catholic tradition specifically gives us tangible ways to enter into Lent through increased prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Let’s break down each of these actions.
Prayer is our conversation and time spent with God. Through spontaneous prayer, we tell God what is on our heart through prayers of petition (asking God for something for us), intercession (asking God for something for another), praise (thanking God for all that he is), penance (apologizing to and asking forgiveness from God for our sins and shortcomings) and thanksgiving (expressing gratitude to God for all our gifts and blessings). We can use spontaneous prayer to connect with God at any time of day, wherever we are. Our faith tradition also gives us structured forms of prayer like the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, reading and meditating with the scriptures, praying with friends and family, meditating with the saints, and praying for those catechumens and candidates preparing to be baptized and/or receive the other sacraments at the Easter Vigil.
Fasting is another Lenten practice which is required on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, as well as it is encouraged that the faithful avoid meat on Fridays. Fasting invites us to surrender our desires (in this case food) for a stronger reliance and trust on God. Through fasting, we have the opportunity to grow in self-mastery and discipline. Almsgiving is another Lenten tradition where we give of our time, talent, or treasure (money) to help others. We can add our spare change and dollars to the rice bowl, or we can volunteer or give our time to help the church, community, or neighbor. We can also use our skills and abilities to help out at school or in our families.
Finally, we are invited to begin the season of Lent by participating in Ash Wednesday. In our church tradition, Ash Wednesday serves as a turning point in our life where the ashes remind us of our need for repentance from the parts of our lives that need to be redeemed, but the ashes are in the shape of the cross as a reminder that Jesus has taken on our sin and given us the power to turn to him for forgiveness through the cross. We are also invited to participate in walking the stations of the cross during Lent which take us through the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In the early church, pilgrims would walk the path of the cross through Jerusalem. Later, for those wanting to pass along the same route, but unable to make the trip to Jerusalem, a practice developed of walking the fourteen stations currently found in almost every church throughout the world. I hope you are both challenged and strengthened through your Lenten journey this year.