Embracing the True Meaning of Lent

Frank - crucified

We know that Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Each year, I try to find creative ways to make Lent a memorable one. It is more than just giving up something you will simply return to at the end of 40 days. During this time, we are called to grow deeper in our relationship with God and become ever closer with Him in our earthly pilgrimage.

Lent also makes us aware of our susceptibility to sin and inspires us to seek God’s help in a more authentic, and sincere manner. Lent is, as our bishop stated during today’s Liturgy, a time of ‘metanoia’. Upon hearing this, I was immediately drawn to the ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’. I began to reflect on that moment of his conversion; the point where he finally turned away from his old, sinful ways, and embraced the new life Our Lord had envisioned for him. This feeling is what strikes at the heart of the Lenten Season.

I have always encouraged the youth I have spoken with that, along with giving up soda, candy, social media, or whatever they choose, they also consider incorporating something new into their season. The hope is that this new ‘act’ will not die out in 40 days, but rather, ignite a fire within them that will only glow brighter with each passing year. Pray five minutes longer; say a decade of the rosary daily (or a full one). Offer up time to help around the house without being asked. Help a neighbor out or just or strike up a conversation with a new person once or twice a week. Ask someone what you could pray for them for. One critical bit of advice I offer is to do two important things: keep it reasonable, and keep it realistic. One reason many may falter during Lent is due to a lack of attention here. Many have big plans, but they putter out too early; similar to a New Year’s resolution. Taking some time to prayerfully consider what God may be calling you to do during this journey can be helpful.

This is not a ‘me’ journey as much as a ‘we’ journey. God calls us into community throughout. This experience is meant to build relationships, thus the need to join with others and act for their betterment along with our own. Often times, a sacrifice leads to new (and more fulfilling) opportunities. Money, which was originally meant for soda, candy or other items, can now be donated to others less fortunate. It adds up!  That extra prayer one chooses to recite can now be said along with the family, or group of friends, just before everyone begins their day. Time spent away from social media can be spent volunteering (which can be quite substantial based on current societal estimates regarding how much time is spent here.)

The fact is that most of the greatest contributions to our world came as a result of being creative and making room for the Holy Spirit. That is what Lent is about; creative ‘God-given’ ways to build community; ones that pull us out our own individual places in order to connect with others. This effort also incorporates the many aspects of Catholic Social Teaching, which our Holy Father has encouraged us to participate in during this time. We know the devil preys on idle beings and forces them to dwell on their inadequacies. Satan’s deceptive tactics can be especially strong, yet we take comfort in reflecting on Christ’s 40 days spent in the desert, and we are inspired, and spiritually invigorated, by His loving care and constant protection.

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving provide rewards that go beyond this world. Jesus tells us in Luke’s Gospel, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Luke 21:33, NAB). This Lent, let us aspire to live out His words in our individual acts of humble service; service that will be brought to fulfillment when we celebrate as one community of faith on Easter.