Lent begins early this year and falls on that lover’s holiday, February 14th. This is an unfortunate day for those hopeless romantics that expect an indulgent dinner with their significant other. But I guess that is the reason for Fat Tuesday. However, it is good that it comes early because it gives us an opportunity to better reflect on the reason that we are Christians, the death, and resurrection of our Lord. This early Lent season also allows us to purge our bodies and minds of the overindulgence of the Christmas and New Year holidays. It allows us to begin anew, refresh, practice self-examination and proclaim our faith publicly.
Although not a holy day of obligation, Ash Wednesday is one the most popular days for Catholics to attend mass. One will likely see people that do not regularly attend mass on this day. As such, this is a great opportunity for the Church to re-engage with people that may have lapsed.
People are searching for meaning. Our secular society tries to fill the void by pushing the use of drugs, alcohol, pornography and needless materialism. The culture constantly pushes a world that rejects God and far too many people accept this. Unfortunately many do not see the correlation of the rejection of God and lack of meaning in the lives and to the rise in depression. They are searching for it in vices that destroy and do not make a person better. Though people hide from and reject God, God “tirelessly calls each person in the mysterious encounter known as prayer.”
Ash Wednesday Mass can highlight the wonders and the beauty of Christ. It can remind people that have wandered away from the wisdom of the Bible. The readings from the Bible will show people that they are not alone in their experiences. The Ash Wednesday mass can re-spark that flame in a person’s soul, and help them find what they are searching for and realize that God has not abandoned them.
Lent allows us to begin anew. This 40-day period is a perfect time to repent and start over. The beauty of the Christian faith is forgiveness. God sent His only Son to die a horrible death on the cross to save us. God forgives all and granted the power of forgiveness to the Church. All people need to realize or to be reminded that (CC 982) “There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive…provided his repentance is honest.” This forgiveness of sins allows us to start over, to be relieved of our burdens of sins and to unharness the baggage that drags us down. Once we are free of those sins, we can begin to help others and serve God.
Lent allows us to exam ourselves. Self-examination is very useful to a better understanding of our faults. To be closer to God, we need to be truthful about what makes us tick. It will be painful to admit to ourselves that we have these faults, but this process cleanses us. Once we find these faults we can take personal responsibility for them. No one but ourselves is at fault for our misdeeds. This realization frees us from being victims. It allows us to open ourselves fully to God.
One way to make it easier for us to conduct a self-exam is to disconnect from media. Today’s all-encompassing media – from Twitter to Facebook to smartphone and apps, to online games, and even to the traditional news – distracts many of us. The constant flow of information, most of it just plain gossip and useless to us, makes us depressed and unhappy. It distracts us from our friendships, families, and work. The intake of media makes us selfish. So one aid to a thorough self-examination is to reduce the consumption of media.
Interestingly, the Catechism speaks to a moderation of media use:
“The means of social communication (especially the mass media) can give rise to a certain passivity among users, making them less than vigilant consumers of what is said or shown. Users should practice moderation and discipline in their approach to the mass media. They will want to form enlightened and correct consciences the more easily to resist unwholesome influences.” (CC 2496)
Lent begins with a public act of faith. Ash Wednesday marks each faithful person with the sign of the cross with ashes on his forehead. Throughout the day this mark identifies a person as a Catholic. In today’s secular culture being known as a Christian in the public square is important. It tells the world that their neighbor or co-worker is faithful. Most importantly, it might trigger questions about the faith and allow the faithful to explain what the ashes are and the meaning of Lent. These conversations might plant the seed of faith in the unbeliever or reignite the flame in the lapsed Catholic.
Lent also ends in public acts of faith during Holy Week. From Palm Sunday to Holy Thursday, to Good Friday to the culmination of Easter, it allows the faithful to proselytize and spread the Word.
Lent is a wonderful season that gives us many opportunities to reflect, slow down, give more and proclaim Christ’s love to the world. Happy Lent!