Lent 2016: The Meaning of Lent

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The season of Lent lasts 40 days beginning today, Ash Wednesday,  and ends on Holy Thursday (the Thursday of Holy Week).  In terms of Biblical significance, the season of Lent is similar to the forty days that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness.

The Season of Lent has four components:

  • Repentance and Conversion
  • Prayer and Penance
  • Fasting
  • Almsgiving

Repentance and Conversion:

” ‘Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ ” ~Joel 2:12

We are all called to repent and be converted every day of the year, but especially during the Season of Lent.

The ashes we receive on Ash Wednesday are a sign of repentance. Ashes have been a sign of repentance since the Old Testament times. In the Old Testament, Jonah preached in Nineveh for the people to repent of their evil ways.

“Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashesAnd he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh …

‘Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.’ “~Jonah 3: 6-8

We must thoroughly examine our lives–our thoughts, our actions, and our words to see in what ways we have sinned. After recognizing our sins, we must be sorry for having committed them, and then resolve not to sin. God our Father loves us and is waiting for us to turn to Him. He wants to forgive us of our sins and shed his love and mercy upon our souls.

In the Sacrament of Confession, God Himself forgives us all our sins.  That is why Confession is known as the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or the Sacrament of Penance).

Jesus told St. Faustina Kowalska:

“When you go to Confession know this, that I Myself am waiting for you in the Confessional; I am only hidden by the priest, but I myself act in the soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of Mercy.Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great there is no limit to my generosity (VI, 6-7)”

Please, during this season and during the whole year, go to Confession as often as you can that you may be forgiven your sins and grow closer to God. (Note: According to the precepts of the Church, all Catholics must go to Confession at least one time per year. However, going to Confession once a month or once a week is better for the soul.)

For more on Confession, see the our blog post: “The Great Sacrament of Confession”

Repentance means that we have to resolve to amend our lives so that we can continue to grow in holiness. Conversion is the daily process by which we grow in holiness and grow closer to God.  The observances of Lent are meant to help our hearts and souls to be converted so that we can be transformed into holier people. Furthermore, repentance and conversion are necessary so that we may be always spiritually prepared to meet Jesus when we die or at His Second Coming. The time will come when we will all have to stand before God and give and an account of our lives.

Prayer and Penance:

Resolve to pray more during this season. For example, some people make the Way of the Cross, pray the Holy Rosary, and make time for Adoration of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament (Eucharistic Adoration).

In prayer, we communicate with God our loving Father. Consequently, the more we pray, the closer we come to God. This season is an opportunity to develop a deep prayer life for the whole year.

As penance, people often give up something or perform more works of charity during Lent.

*For example, this Lent, try to reduce the amount of time you spend watching TV or browsing the internet. Spend the extra time in prayer or reading Christian books (i.e Holy Bible, Lives of the Saints, etc.)

Another aspect of Penance is to recall the sufferings that Jesus Christ endured for our sake in order to pay for the sins of mankind and reconcile humanity with God. For this is the reason that He allowed Himself to suffer death on the Cross.  Foreshadowing His death on the Cross, Jesus said,

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” (John 12:32)

It is important to recognize that Jesus Christ suffered death on the Cross to bring humanity back to God–to make it possible for us to come back to God.

Fasting:

On the Fridays of Lent, Catholics ages 14 and older are not to eat meat (abstinence).

On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Catholics ages 18 to 59 are supposed to fast and abstain from eating meat. When fasting, a person can eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may also be taken, but not to equal a full meal.

*Note: There may be some variation in fasting and abstinence requirements in different countries.

The purpose of fasting is firstly to imitate Christ, practice self-denial and discipline, as well as to focus on God.

Almsgiving:

We are also called to help those in need in a special way during this season. Consequently, many churches often have giving projects during Lent to help the needy. It is important to remember that holiness leads to the perfection of love and charity.

Prayer, penance, fasting, and almsgiving enable us to break free from attachments to earthly things. These attachments distract us and prevent us from growing closer to God.

During the Lenten season, let our hearts, souls, and minds be drawn back to God and may we renew our efforts to love our neighbor.

‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. … ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. ‘ “~Mark 12: 29-31

May we all have a blessed and holy Lent!

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