“Lent is our own personal journey with Christ to the cross”.
Ever since I was a little girl I have always heard 3 words associated with Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These three things are known as the “pillars” of Lent. They can be used as guidelines for making the most of these 40 days. I remember giving up soda, chocolate or television when I was younger and trying to fill those little purple, cardboard boxes with money for the poor. All I understood about the 40 days of lent is that time would nearly stand still and in the end the Easter bunny would come and hide a basket full of all the yummy treats that I had just finished depriving myself of for the month and a half prior.
So now that I can officially call myself a real grown up, I decided it was time to revisit what the season of Lent means to me and learn how I can best explain it to my young children. In the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday, I contemplated what I should do this lent. My mind instantly turned to desserts, more exercise, better sleep schedules, etc. I thought I was doing pretty good. My prayer life would get better because I would be well rested and I could spend more time praying for the things I really need (want) in my life. I would be fasting if I give up sweets and it would also be beneficial to my waistline (win!). Lastly, I could cut back on my spending. Then, some day (far in the unknown future), I could donate and be more charitable. Yep, I had it all figured out. This was going to be the best lent ever! Then, one night when I was doing my Liturgy of the Hours it dawned on me. My goal was prayer, fasting and almsgiving and the result I was really looking for all led to my own personal, physical and financial gains. None of the promises that I was going to commit do would do anything to help others or improve my own personal relationship with God.
Back to the drawing board I went. What am I truly looking for? What do I want to learn or gain from these 40 days? Sure, being thinner, well rested and making more money are great goals. But they aren’t at the heart of what this season is about or what I yearn for daily. I yearn to strengthen my relationship with God, to grow in my knowledge of Him and to serve others so that they may know Him through me. How on earth can I do all of that in a mere 40 days???
I took a deeper look at my life. I had to face reality and it wasn’t that pretty. I spent WAY too much time on Facebook and Pinterest. In the evenings, after I put the kids to bed, I would lay in my own bed watching the television and surfing the internet until I fell asleep – sometimes HOURS later! I also spend a lot of time reading but the books I read are usually for my own enjoyment and are in no way fulfilling my desire to serve God. By looking into how I spend my free hours, I was able to see what has been standing in my way of my spiritual goals and my relationship with the Lord. I decided to give up Facebook and the television for Lent. I have heard many people laugh at these “sacrifices” and I have seen a multitude of Facebook memes stating how giving up social media is nothing compared to being nailed to a cross. These memes are correct but they are also way off point.
The purpose of the Lenten season is not to make ourselves so miserable that the world tries to commiserate with and comfort us. The purpose of Lent is not to make ourselves suffer to the point of physical consequence. God does not want to see us in pain and we gain nothing from suffering if we are doing it out of obligation or fear. Lent is a time of growth. We can use this time to acknowledge the agony and suffering that Jesus went through to set us free. To reflect on how great His love is for us. Lent is our own personal journey with Christ to the cross. It is a time to focus on our relationship with God and to actually work on strengthening it.
So that covers the prayer part of the 3 pillars I mentioned earlier. What about fasting and almsgiving? Catholics fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We also abstain from meat on these days and all Fridays during Lent. We do this in commemoration of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert before his crucifixion and in preparation for his death and resurrection on Good Friday and Easter Sunday respectively. It is a way to honor and model Christ. It is hard to take this season of the liturgical year for what it is worth if we are gorging ourselves on food and drink. Fasting is a very small sacrifice that we can all offer up throughout this Lent in a way to honor our Lord and Savior.
Almsgiving is no foreign concept for Catholics. We are members of the Church; the Body of Christ. We have a responsibility to support one another. We do this out of love and thankfulness for the gifts God has given us and for the suffering Christ endured for all mankind. In my own personal life, I do not believe almsgiving is just about money. We do have a duty to the Church to build one another up. But, there are many ways in which to do this. If money isn’t an excess luxury you have in your life, it doesn’t mean that there is nothing you can do this Lent. Try thinking a little bit outside of the box. Maybe you could consider volunteering at a local school or shelter. You could donate clothing to the homeless or contribute to a pro-life organization; helping parents deal with unexpected pregnancies. It can also be as simple as sending a letter or card to someone you know to be going through a difficult time, so that they know that they are not alone in this world. By giving your time and talents (and treasures) you are sharing a piece of yourself and more importantly, you are sharing Christ’s love. That I believe, is our greatest purpose during Lent and every day we live as Catholics.
One week into our Lenten journey and I can already tell you I am failing at most of my goals. But, I am not discouraged and will keep on trying to make these the best 40 days that I possibly can.
What about you? How are you doing this Lent? What did you give up or add to your life? I would love to hear from you… Please Like and Share!