Every year, I am approached by someone who asks the question, what is Lent? or what is the meaning or purpose of Lent? The interesting part of that loaded question is the people usually asking the question are practicing Catholics, and every time I’m asked, I am surprised, as though it were the first time.
Let me remind you, that I do work in a church so this question may not be as uncommon as it seems. I guess we all have our own interpretations of what it is suppose to mean, versus what it means to each individual, and people are always concerned that they may be missing something or doing it wrong or questioning why they want to do it at all. Some tell me they feel like there is some prescribed format they must follow and they fear they don’t have all the formula. When answering this question, I try very hard to keep it simple and make it personal, especially, if the person asking is a young adult.
I find we tend to overthink it and complicate it and it isn’t complicated and it certainly is not something to stress out about.
Lent is a crucial period of time the Church sets aside for us to reawaken and reconnect our relationship with Jesus and the Church. It’s a time where we can redirect ourselves away from poor choices we may have made and get back on the right track. Ash Wednesday kicks off some of the confusion because most people think it is a Holy Day of Obligation and it isn’t, and they move in a frenzy to get ashes on their foreheads as though the Church might run out of them and they will be penalized in some spiritual way.
Lent does officially begin on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday after the Last Supper service. Then we enter the holiest three days of the year, called the Triduum. It is very good for us to go to Mass on Ash Wednesday, even though it is not a Holy day of obligation. We are strengthened when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist and enlightened when we listen to the scriptures. We are asked by the Church to fast and to receive ashes on our foreheads in the sign of the cross. These ashes and their representation is derived from the Scripture in Genesis 3:19 “Dust you are, and unto dust, you shall return.” The ashes are made from the previous year’s palm branches that are burned and blessed. We are asked to fast on Ash Wednesday to help us begin to reflect and prepare for our 40- day spiritual journey along side of Jesus in the desert where he was tempted by the devil. Fasting can help us to see ourselves through a new lens and notice those things we have swept into the darkness by shedding light on them to confess them and let them go. In confession, we are cleansed and atoned for our wrongdoing. Lent is a good time to go to confession to empty ourselves of our sins and refuel ourselves spiritually with hope, peace, love, and joy at the promises of the resurrection and everlasting life.
Some people during Lent make a commitment to attend daily mass during the 40 days others attend a bible study or go on a spiritual retreat. Many people will sit in the morning and pray with a lenten daily devotional, the scriptures, or they may attend a prayer group. Most churches offer stations of the cross on Friday’s and a first Friday Holy Hour. The Church recommends giving alms to the poor and will also offer volunteer opportunities to help the surrounding community and the world to people who are suffering and in need.
I could go on and on with suggestions on Lenten practices to guide you deeper on your spiritual journey but the truth of the matter is you have to find what is right for you. What works for someone else may not work for you and what works for you one year may not work another because God calls us all to different things at different times in our lives. What is important, is that whatever you choose to do during Lent that it brings you closer to the love of Christ and that your heart grows softer for Him to lay there and love you and for that overwhelming love to encourage you to love others.
Every Lent, I like to watch an inspirational movie sometimes it is Jesus Christ Super Star ( I love the music and the littleness of the man who plays Jesus) or I watch the Passion or Risen, and this year it was the Shack.
As a matter of fact, I liked it so much, I brought some people from our bible study with me and I went to the movies twice with them. I read the book years ago and this is the first time I liked the movie better than the book.
I found this movie to be very heart warming and able to answer some questions that many people struggle with.
There are insights into the power of forgiveness and the importance of letting go of our past and keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and oh the wonders of what we can do together Jesus, me, and you. The movie shares a wisdom into understanding better the Trinity and why bad things happen to good people, a question that paralyzes many. The actors acted so well they were convincingly real and the storyline forces you to reflect on your inner selves and how often we tend to judge others, ourselves, and even God. If you haven’t already seen the movie, please do, and I advise you to bring tissues with you for you will surely need them.
Lent is a special time on our Liturgical Calendar and there are so many Graces and Blessings to receive by participating. If you have been away from the Church in a long time this is a great time to stop in and say, hi. Maybe you want to say a little prayer or just sit in the quiet space on Holy Ground to experience peace in your very active and busy life. My prayer for you this Lent is that whatever you choose to do these 40 days that it brings you the peacefulness you seek and a deeper faith in our mutual friend, Jesus.