As we begin the season of Lent, it is a good idea to look at the meaning of this time of the liturgical year. “Lent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word, Lencten, which means spring. It was expressly commanded as a forty-day period of prayer in the year 360.
Lent is the great paschal retreat of the church. It disposes us – by prayer, penance, and good works – to more deeply remember the passion and death of Jesus. Lent exists only to lead us to Easter.
Lent helps us get back to basics, inviting us to a deeper understanding of who we are as Christians, where we are ultimately headed, and how well we are doing in our faith life. It is the season of metanoia, that is, of conversion; change of mind and heart to be more like the Lord. It is a time for a “fasting of the heart” – more for self-giving than self-denial, though both are important.
Fasting from judging others
Fasting from idle gossip
Fasting from lying to make ourselves look good
Fasting from the scourge of envy
Fasting from resentments and grudges
Fasting from some vice or addiction
Feasting on kindness, compassion, and forgiveness
Feasting on patience and appreciation of others
Feasting on gratitude for what we have
Feasting on reconciliation
Feasting on optimism and hope
Feasting on love
The first reading at Mass on Ash Wednesday, from the prophet Joel, reads eloquently of God’s compassion for wounded humanity: “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart.” Joel reminds us that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and rich in kindness.”
The Psalmist gives words to what is in our heart: “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” This is the proper disposition for Lent – the humility to acknowledge our transgressions and the wisdom to repent. We say with the Psalmist, “A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.”
In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul urges us to be reconciled to God and thus be reconciled with one another.
Jesus encourages us to fast but to do so as a prayer not as a way to impress others as to how “holy” we are. I think he approves of the call to “fast with the heart” and “feast with the spirit.” Whatever we choose to do, of course, we do so out of love.
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18