I wrote an article for Catholic Stand called Rethinking Lent This Year. As always, I approach these things as a “revert” (when does one stop using that term? After ten years back?) and know that what is rethinking for me may be quite obvious to others.
Here was my approach: in the past, and certainly growing up, Lent was a time with no context. It was just the time of year we gave something up and then showed up at Church on Easter. That was about the extent of my understanding. As a child, I also sometimes took that rice bowl thing from the back of the church and tried to fill it up with coins, but I remember my collection being too small and never turning it in, out of a sense of failure. So, Lent was a time that had neither meaning nor any particular triumph.
Now, as an adult, utterly fascinated by the wise and time-tested traditions of the Church and desirous to bring my own will into accord with God’s, Lent seems like a blessing. And the opportunity to be much more than the month wherein I give up chocolate.
So I wanted to understand this time from other people’s perspectives in order to broaden my own understanding. I crowd-sourced around from the many good and faithful Catholics I know, and received some enlightening responses. My question was, what is the unusual thing you do to observe Lent, besides giving up wine and chocolate, and what sort of inner change do you hope to experience? The answers were wide-ranging, from writing notes to loved ones, to deactivating Facebook, to answering the phone when relatives call, to eating donuts on Sundays because otherwise I’ll get smug about my Lenten weight loss. I especially liked the responses related to other people and relationships. “Stepping on my own pride” was the way one friend phrased it, as he seeks to repair a broken relationship.
There’s much more that can be said on this topic. Ultimately, I see that Lent is like a retreat, and a much-needed one. It is a time to go inward, to simplify, to give something up because in doing so we recognize our own weakness and call out for God, instead.
I received a note from the Dominicans (God bless them) which included a Lenten reflection. Below is a part:
“The true purpose of Lent is not to try and prove to ourselves or to God how good we can be, but rather to grow in self-knowledge and humility. It is a time for more intense self-examination, and for asking God to show us more and more clearly the extent of our sinfulness and need for His mercy. This is the heart, the core, the full realization of death to self - to realize more and more my spiritual poverty, that I am truly nothing without God, and that I can do nothing good apart from him.”
“…we should put away any thought that we are going to make ourselves holier through our acts of penance, for such a project is doomed to failure, Rather…we should keep in mind that our primary goal is to come to know ourselves better in the light of God’s love. …Lent is not about what we can do for God, but about what He can and wants to do for us. True self-denial is to acknowledge and accept our powerlessness to make ourselves holy. This is the self-denial that leads to new life.”
So, much to think over there. I am grateful for the time to go inward, and dare I say, be a bit hermitty. Except for Sunday nights, when I will feast (preferably, with friends) and remember God’s goodness, in the midst of the desert.
p.s. I also spoke about this topic on Morning Air Radio. You can hear the conversation here, which starts at 18:18.
Wishing you a happy and holy Lent.