The Season of Lent
Historically the origin of Lent is tied to the final spiritual preparation of catechumens for baptism and initiation into the Church at the Easter Vigil. These days of preparation were marked by prayer, fasting and almsgiving or acts of charity. Over time, Christians were so moved by the devotion of the catechumens that they began to join them in these acts in preparation for celebrating the Feast of Easter.
Regardless if you are preparing to be baptized or already are, the purpose of Lent remains the same to turn our hearts to the Lord and give some perspective to our lives. Lent is not a season for comfort. It is a season for sacrifice and growth. It calls us to move. And this is the great question we have to ask ourselves: What makes me move, what drives me?
The Season of Lent is once again upon us. Often the big question each Catholic has is: “What am I going to give up for Lent this year?” The possibilities seem infinite and overwhelming.
Some of the best advice on how to make this a productive and rewarding Lent can be found in the Scriptures. In Luke 10.27, Jesus is talking with a lawyer about what it takes to gain eternal life. Jesus asks the lawyer for his opinion on the matter. The lawyer says “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.”
Jesus tells us that the lawyer gives the right answer as he replies “Do this, and you will live.” This verse is the foundation of all our Lenten ideas and sacrifices. A lot of times, we try to do one huge sacrifice that seems like the most impressive thing we can think of, but the point is not how big our sacrifices are. Lent is about learning to love God better, and Jesus gives us a few different areas to work on in this passage. Heart, soul, strength, mind, neighbour; here are five different ways we can grow closer to Christ.
Where are you emotionally with God? With your parents, family members and friends? Are there grudges or unresolved problems in your relationships? Is there someone or something that you place ahead of God?
How much prayer time are you getting daily? When was the last time you went to Confession or a daily Mass? Do you leave Mass early or remain until the end? Do you have a saint or a particular part of Church history you want to know about?
Saint Pope John Paul II always talked about how our bodies are linked into our spiritual lives, and it’s very true. Are you living an active life? Do you spend time with others? It is amazing the freedom that comes from the small accomplishment of just getting off the couch and being active whether it is sports, socializing or a hobby.
Where is your willpower at? Can you resist the little temptations of life — that extra-large order of French fries or the extra ten minutes you know you should not be online at night? Even in the smallest things, growing in willpower helps us resist temptations in all areas of life.
How do you love those around you? Do you sacrifice for others? Do you listen when they need to talk? Something as simple as a word of affirmation or emptying a full dishwasher can serve as a huge statement of love for those around you.
At this point you might be thinking “That is a lot of stuff to do! I can barely handle one thing for Lent.” Worry not. Pick one area from those five, and then pick one small, attainable thing from that category. Maybe it’s getting up ten minutes earlier to pray, maybe it is trying to stop being critical of others. It is up to you.
As Lent goes on, if you are doing well, you can add in something from another category too. Just remember to keep focused on why you are doing this – to love Jesus more. Walk the road these forty days and you will be that much more united with him when he walks the road to Calvary this Holy Week.
Lenten Practices & Devotions
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
As our hearts change through our Lenten works, we recognize the need to reconcile ourselves with God and our neighbours. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is widely available during Lent and all are encouraged to avail themselves of the sacramental graces that flow from God’s mercy and love for us.
The Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross recount the final steps of Jesus when he his condemned to death by Pilate to his death on the cross and finally his Resurrection. Throughout Lent, individuals are welcome to pray the Stations on their own during the weekday. The communal celebration of the Stations are prayed in the evening of each Friday of Lent.
The Rosary (Sorrowful Mysteries)
Throughout all the days of Lent we are encouraged to reflect upon the sufferings of our Lord and his Mother Mary by praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.
Fasting & Abstinence from Meat
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are universal days of fasting and abstinence from meat. On the other Fridays of Lent, Catholics may abstain from meat or perform an act of charity that you would not normally do. Fasting and abstinence remind us that there are hungers inside of us that earthly things cannot satisfy. We were made for heaven and we will always feel slightly “incomplete” until we get there. C.S. Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
The Hot Cross Bun
In the Middle Ages, all Christians abstained from meat for the entire forty days of Lent. Throughout these days, the faithful would east small cakes or buns with raisins and other dried fruits as part of their Lenten fasting. The top of the bun was cut in the shape of a cross and served hot from the oven, hence its name. It was especially eaten on Good Friday and became a symbol of this day, the Day of the Cross.
This popular snack food has a religious origin. The pretzel was invented by German monks in the Middle Ages to teach children about the importance of prayer during Lent. At that time, monks would pray with their arms folded over their chests. The monks made the pretzel to represent this gesture of arms folded in prayer. They gave this tasty treat as a reward to children who could recite their prayers from memory. The pretzel not only reminded children how to pray, but about the necessity to pray always, for just as food nourishes the body, so prayer nourishes the soul. The next time you are enjoying some pretzels, remember to say a little prayer too.