Lent Offers Many Ways To Prepare For Easter
The Church’s liturgical year provides us with a wonderful cycle of experience and encounter, with the sacredness of divine presence and grace woven into every fabric of the human condition. In addition to various annual feast days of the mysteries of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, martyrs and saints, the liturgical year is marked by the special focus of its seasons. The Church’s liturgical year includes the Seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Ordinary Time. With Ash Wednesday, just celebrated on March 1 of this year, we have embarked upon the Season of Lent.
The Season of Lent is a sacred time for Christians, involving both opportunity and challenge. Rich with symbolism and ritual, it prepares us for the pivotal feast of the entire liturgical year; namely, Easter, which is described by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “the ‘Feast of feasts,’ the ‘Solemnity of solemnities.’” To be ready for fully engage ourselves in celebrating this ultimate feast and solemnity, there are numerous ways to prepare in this grace-filled Lenten Season.
The word Lent, as derived from Latin, means “spring.” Extending from Ash Wednesday to the Sacred Triduum (i.e. the “Three Sacred Days” of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday) and Easter, it is meant as a spring time of Christian renewal in discipleship. Of course, in order for the new life of spring to take root and bud forth, the former or old ways of being must be uprooted and cast off. The 40 days of Lent point to the notion of journey or pilgrimage. Lent is not a stagnant time of passivity. We need only think of the significance of the number 40 in Scripture: (1) The 40 days and nights that God flooded the earth, saving only Noah and his family; (2) The 40 years that Moses and the Israelites wandered the desert before entering the Promised Land; and (3) The 40 days and nights that Jesus fasted in the desert, following his baptism and just before embarking upon public ministry. Thus, are we called to missionary discipleship.
The three-fold disciplines of prayer, almsgiving and fasting are meant to draw us out of ourselves and closer to God and others in and through the paschal mysteries of Jesus Christ. Acts of penance enable us to break away from sinful behavior, so often rooted in pride and selfishness, in order to be more Christ-like in relation to others. To engage fully in the Season of Lent, whether giving up something or participating in something positive, there must be a conscious effort to focus less on one’s wants and more on the needs of others. The whole premise behind the Season of Lent is clearly counter to the radical individualism in today’s society. Rather than seeking to isolate ourselves, we must keep in mind that we are social by nature.
Without a sense of responsibility and concern for others, there is little motivation for sacrifice. Yet, as Jesus exemplified by both word and deed, sacrifice is at the heart of Christian discipleship. As Jesus made clear, sacrifice is not merely for those we love. Like Him, we must sacrifice for the world. Through sacrificial love, we embrace each and every human being as created in the image of God. Regardless of anyone’s sexuality, religion, ethnicity, politics or demeanor, all humanity is impacted by the wounded world in which we live and share. Thus, we must embrace not only Christians, but persons of all faiths. In fact, we must be willing to embrace those who lack any sense of faith. We must be especially attentive to the needs of the most vulnerable in our midst. Thus, we must be concerned with the plight of the unborn, the poor, the migrant, the immigrant, the sick, the elderly, the homeless, the unemployed, the underemployed, the addicted, the abused, the prisoner and the dying. Our outreach must not be limited to only those who love us or share our values. As Pope Francis so often exhorts us, we must go out to the margins, the peripheries of society. No one is beyond the scope of mercy.
During the last several Sundays leading up to this Season of Lent, the gospel readings were drawn from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which encompasses three chapters in the Gospel of Matthew. In those chapters, 5-7, Jesus not only provides us with assurance of blessings and grace, but He makes clear the demands of Christian discipleship. There, called to deny oneself and take up the cross, it is evident that following Him is not for the faint of heart. Whatever forms our prayer, almsgiving and fasting take during this particular Lent, may God use our witness to transform our world, our relationships and even ourselves. Thus, will we truly realize and celebrate the joy of Easter!