It’s hard to believe that we are quickly approaching Lent already! As I look at the calendar, we are just 1½ weeks away from Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent. This means that I’m about 1½ weeks away from friends (typically non-Catholic friends) asking me why we (Catholics) give something up for Lent. I seem to get this question every year.
Giving up something for Lent sometimes evokes headscratching in non-Catholics, but what might seem like just another Catholic eccentricity can actually be a practice with deep spiritual significance. Lent, the period of 40 days that precedes the celebration of Easter, has its origin in the early days of the Church. Early non-Christians who were seeking to become Christian, who at that time were mostly adults, spent several years in study and preparation for their conversion to Christianity. Under the threat of Roman persecution, becoming a Christian was serious business, so their process of preparation was intensive. Then they went through a final period of “purification and enlightenment” for the 40 days before their baptism at Easter. The rest of the Church began to observe the season of Lent in solidarity with these newest Christians. It became an opportunity for all Christians to recall and renew the commitment of their baptism.
Today we know Lent as a season of conversion: We acknowledge the ways we have turned away from God in our lives, and we focus on turning our hearts and minds back toward God. Therefore, the three pillars of Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
These observances help us turn away from whatever has distracted or derailed us from focusing on God and to turn back to God as the source and summit of our faith. Giving up something for Lent is ultimately a form of fasting. We can deprive ourselves of some small pleasure or indulgence and offer that sacrifice up to God. Or we might “give up” a bad habit such as smoking, drinking or any other vice that we may have as a way of positively turning our life back toward what God wants for us.
In this coming 1½ weeks, take the time now to think about what you might give up this year. Is it something you enjoy that you want to sacrifice for a while, like your daily latte? Or is it a bad habit you want to conquer, like running in late to meetings with co-workers? Or perhaps you want to turn your cell phone off for a few hours each day and not let it distract you from the loved ones you are with in real time? Find something that works for you, and whatever it is, may it help you to turn toward God inthis holy season of Lent.
He Would Love First!
October 24, 2020
A July Faith Formation Series – Part IV – APOSTOLIC