LENT: THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE GIVING UP YOUR COVETED CHOCOLATE OR WINE

Lent is approaching. What does this mean? What should I do?

If you’re like the majority of the Christian population, you’ll take a few minutes to think about whether this year, you’ll give up chocolate or wine (and might even check to see which item would be less intrusive to your social calendar, ehhhh I heard people do that, ehhh yeah, people)

But, nothing worth having comes fast and easy. I definitely found this to be so true when I started researching easy, approachable information for Lent so that I could share it here and on my YouTube channel. Sure, I came across several lovely fast facts PDFs on Lent—how many days, when to do what, even some fun historical documents—but the what of Lent left me with much to be desired about making any meaningful changes. So, I did a little more digging and reflecting, and at the end of this post, I will leave you with some deeper reflection questions that will possibly give you a more meaningful lent. I know they have been really helpful for me!

THE THREE PILLARS OF LENT: FASTING, PRAYER, ALMSGIVING

The what is far less important than the why. I think this has been one of the major stumbling blocks in my own spiritual journey. The Catholic Church is so rich in tradition and rituals that I’ve often looked for the what, or the checklist to follow. Go to church, get the ashes, no meat on Ash Wednesdays and Fridays, give something up and/or make an offering. Check, check, check, aaaaaaaaannd check.

Our culture has become so ingrained with the faster, easier, watered down version of church and spirituality that we try to get through the checklist as quickly as possible, in turn, hoping desperately for an internal change that would take place just as quickly and easily.

Not going to happen.

The problem is that merely marking the boxes does nothing for our spiritual growth (ehhhh …which is why it is not pleasing to God either).

Spiritual growth is pursuing holiness.

Spiritual growth is strengthening the relationship you have with your creator.

And, relationships take time and energy, focus and attention, communication.

So instead of giving you the checklist of Lent, I would love to offer you a little more food for thought today. (Don’t worry. If your heart skips a beat when you see a beautiful checklist, there will be headings and a neat and pretty list of reflection questions at the end!)

THE SPIRITUAL RHYTHYM OF LIFE

What struck me the most about my digging into the ins and outs of lent is learning about the spiritual rhythm of life.  Lent, if observed with an open heart and surrender to what it is intended to be, can be part of a beautiful cadence of your soul.

What struck me the most about my digging into the ins and outs of lent is learning about the spiritual rhythm of life.  Lent, if observed with an open heart and surrender to what it is intended to be, can be part of a beautiful cadence of your soul.

What struck me the most about my digging into the ins and outs of lent is learning about the spiritual rhythm of life.  Lent, if observed with an open heart and surrender to what it is intended to be, can be part of a beautiful cadence of your soul.

40 DAYS OF LENT

40 days…. wait, not true. 46 days. Wait, what? I’m confused. Hold tight if you didn’t know this (I honestly didn’t until just recently doing my research) because both numbers are part of the rhythm.

Ok, here’s the deal. Lent is 40 days and then we add 6 more because Sundays are “special.” More on that later.

There is biblical significance to the number 40. Multiple times, 40 was used to describe a time of preparation, discipline, and devotion for major figures in the bible.  Moses, Noah, Elijah, for example—you can research those if you like.

Most significantly, though, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert (the biblically familiar ritual of preparation, discipline, and devotion) before He started His ministry. He kept Himself in a state of self-denial for 40 days.

He fasted and prayed for 40 days. He modeled what preparation, discipline, and devotion look like with great poise under pressure and temptation.  Self-denial.  A pause from the normal pattern of life, where a new rhythm takes place.

Jesus teaches and models for us that preparing for ministry—what you are called to do—is less about you and more about the people you serve, which is so incredibly others-focused. Sure, God wants us to become the best version of ourselves (we are, after all, made in His image and He wants us to come back to Him, but we continually fall short).  Lent reminds us to stay in a process of “unbecoming” what the world has taught us about who it thinks we should be so that we can go back to who God made us to be. In doing so, we discover –or rediscover—the gifts and talents and purpose for our lives so that we can serve the world for His glory. I love the idea of “unbecoming.” It reminds me that there is so much the world lies to us about. So many lies we believe and then, and then we actually tell ourselves these lies, too. We have to focus on unbecoming these lies. This is so stinking amazing if you think about it. And do you think that’s going to come easy? Heck no!! Especially if the devil has a say in it.

When we make attempts to resist the world (satan’s temptations), the world (satan) will come looking to tempt you. And he is the most cunning of all the beasts.

So, we are called to break the pattern of our life in order to make ourselves aware of the temptations of evil that may have a tight grip on us or to acknowledge those habits that may not be so obvious but are like an invisible, poisonous gas that we inhale without knowing.  Fast, turn away from the world and to turn inward to remember who we are (sinful), where we came from (dust—more on this with Ash Wednesday), where we are going (back to dust), and what our purpose is (purification and preparing ourselves for heaven).  As we attempt to be more like Christ and his journey in the desert, we use the 40 days of lent as a somber time of reflections and penance. A time to mourn our sinfulness. Acknowledge and loosen the grip and strongholds of this world. To unbecome those things of the world. To become more like to person we were created to be.

46 DAYS OF LENT

Sundays are a day to celebrate the joy of Jesus’ resurrection as on Easter Sunday, so extra 6 days are in addition to 40 days we are asked to fast because it would not be appropriate to be somber and pensive on the day we celebrate our salvation through Christ’s resurrection.  Therefore, on those days, we do not have to fast and can even partake in what we gave up for lent.

There is beauty in the ebb and flow of fasting and feasting. Jesus wants us to experience both as part of our spiritual journey. It’s no surprise that the church gives us liturgical seasons and times to fast and times to feast. During lent, we ebb and flow for 6 days of the week we fast, and on the 7th day, we still are invited to joyfully feast and celebrate. In my research, I also found that denial to the point of resentment of God is a sin itself, so we must have a spiritual yin and yang so to speak for fasting and feasting to balance us out.

FASTING/ABSTAIN

WHY NO MEAT. Denying of self/”luxuries” of the world. In earlier practices, people abstained from all products that came from animals. Meat, eggs, fat, milk. In most cultures, meals that included an animal was a luxury and only used to celebrate/feast on special occasions.

2 SMALL MEALS AND ONE REGULAR MEALAND NO SNACKING BETWEEN MEALS. On days that call for fasting, your 2 meals should not be bigger than your regular meal.  This cannon law is intended as a penitential act/sacrifice.

Since Ash Wednesday is the start of lent and time of mourning our sinfulness, it is appropriate that the church asks that we fast (no snacks in between meals/smaller meals) and abstain (no meat). 

We are also called to abstain from meat on Fridays during lent, as they too, are days of penance and remembrance of Good Friday when Jesus died for our sins. We are called to fast and abstain on Good Friday.

Fasting and abstaining help us to be mindful that there is only One who can fully satisfy and fill any and all of our needs) and to acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for our sinful nature.

That’s a little deeper than merely planning meals according to the lent checklist.

GIVING UP SOMETHING FOR LENT

Since Jesus made the sacrifice of His life, it is also customary to give something up for lent that you feel would be a sacrifice and would be particularly challenging for you to lessen or avoid altogether.

ASH WEDNESDAY

First day of lent. It’s not a holy day of obligation, but many attend mass and receive ashes.

ASHES–Ultimate reminder of how sinful we are. In the old testament, it was customary for people to dress in sackcloth and sit in ashes and put ashes on their heads as a sign of mourning and penance. The ashes tie us back to that tradition as well as being a reminder that we are from dust, and to dust we shall return.  The sign of the cross on the forehead was also a sign of ownership. We belong to Jesus, who died on the cross for us.

Just like people take the new year to jumpstart a diet—Lent is the jumpstart of our spiritual “diet” and possibly wanes as the year goes on. But the rhythm of the liturgical season will bring us back to this place again next year….just like the new year brings the masses to the local gyms.

CONFESSION

The church’s precept on confession according to the Catholic Catechism (#1457) is as follows: “after having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year.”  Since Lent is a time to reflect and mourn our sins because Jesus had to die for them, it is a time that many choose to participate in this sacrament, although it in not a requirement of the season.

ALMSGIVING

Almsgiving is the simply material generosity to the less fortunate and can be observed by giving money or good or performing acts of charity. Serving others instead of self.

MARDI GRAS

Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday” originated when early Christians would use up their fat supplies since they were going to fast from them during lent. Being practical in nature, they would make pancakes with the splurge ingredient (remember anything from animals was considered a luxury or splurge) and enjoy them the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

At the same of early Christianity, many pagans still practiced raucous rituals to celebrate their gods. You can imagine what types of “feasting” they were doing at such celebrations ,and masks were worn so that those partaking is lude activity could not easily be identified.

The fertility god celebration was in February, close to the start of lent, so as pagans started converting, some of their traditions were kept to make it a little easier transition christianity, and thus we have the elaborate, beautiful masks and costumes that we still see today, hopefully without the accompanying activities, although some cultures and people still take it waaaay back to the original meaning whether they know it or not (think beads and naked parades, gluttonous feasting and drunken debauchery).

THE BIG PICTURE

As Lent approaches, I pray to stay big picture-focused. Not just on the obligatory giving up of chocolate. Love is obedience and sacrifice. How can I make the most of this Lent by pursuing obedience, sacrifice, and love?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s