Lent is a solemn 40-day period in the Church’s liturgical year in which we prepare ourselves spiritually for the great celebration of Easter. The tradition of celebration of Lent for forty days is drawn from the experience of Jesus, who spent forty days in the desert fasting and preparing himself for his public ministry.
The traditional spiritual practices of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving, are as simple as they are challenging. The forty-days of Lent are intended to renew and deepen our spiritual life through prayer, self-denial and generosity to those who are poor and in need. There is one more traditional Lenten practice that we should not overlook: penance. Forgiving and being forgiven is the very essence of true conversion and during Lent, each of us should take advantage of the opportunity to celebrate sacrament of reconciliation.
Most Christians tend to concentrate on the negative dimension of Lent – giving something up, abstaining from meat, fasting, etc. to be sure, these penitential practices are extremely valuable as a means of self-discipline. Nevertheless, a genuine Lenten spirituality should also focus on the positive: doing something extra for God and other people. Lent offers us wonderful opportunities to grow in our relationship with God, by giving extra time to prayer or Scripture reading.
The whole purpose of Lent is spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ in a new way into our lives at Easter, not beating ourselves up or feeling ashamed about our lack of spiritual progress. The deeper purpose is what is called a “metanoia,” a Greek word used often in the Gospels. That’s often translated as “repentance,” but its better translated as a complete change of mind and heart. So, it’s not about whether we were able to successfully give up chocolate, but whether our mind and heart are more willing to accept Jesus more fully into our lives.
These forty days of wandering, of being proved, of finding strength, and of bolstering faith are exactly what we need right now. From ashes and fasting to almsgiving and prayer, the spiritual deepening and awareness offered by the Lenten season invites us to a place of renewal, a place that, if we are honest, it wouldn’t hurt to spend some time in, individually and collectively these days.
We are dust. We were born and we will die. The life we live in between these two moments is God’s gift to us. Recognizing our humble beginnings and our mortality is part of embracing the Lenten call to renewal. Full engagement in the renewal Lent calls forth is about examining and recommitting to the practices that ground our faith and remind us who we are and who we are called to be.
The Lenten journey to conversion, which we undertake today with the entire Church, becomes, therefore, an auspicious occasion = “an acceptable time” (2 Cor 6:2) – to offer ourselves once again as sons and daughters into God’s hands and to put into practice what Jesus says to us over and over again: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mk 8:34)
The celebration of Easter cannot be fully understood and experienced without first taking the necessary time for reflection and evaluation to determine where we spiritually and morally stand as individuals and as a community before God.
Christians would do well to embrace Lent in the spirit and mood of contemplation. Here is an opportunity to find again this excitement of bring a disciple of Christ. Let us use this Lenten season to reflect on our lives as Christians. May we all emerge from this season renewed, refreshed and rejuvenated in faith, spiritual life, and in our walk with God.
Sem. Robert Bigabwarugaba
Katigondo National Seminary