Lent means lengthen and it is also an old English word ‘lecten’ meaning Spring or Springtime. During Spring our days get longer, brighter, and warmer. In nature Spring brings about new life and new birth. Life springs forth from something that appears to be dead. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday. “Lent ends before the Mass on Holy Thursday evening. The Triduum itself begins with the evening Mass on Holy Thursday and reaches its high point in the Easter Vigil, which begins the Easter season.” During the Lenten Season we are reminded of our renewal of life and because of our Baptismal promise we can share this with Christ who died so that we might have life and rose from the dead to bring us Salvation. Jesus is driven by the Holy Spirit into the desert. There Jesus fasts for 40 days and 40 nights, he prays and “the angels minister to Him”. In doing this Jesus prepares Himself for what He must face. At the end of the 40 days and 40 nights the Devil comes to tempt Jesus because Satan knows that Jesus is at His weakest and most vulnerable. Satan tempts Jesus 3 times and each time Jesus rebuffs Satan and in the end send him away by telling him “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every aspect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning”. In going through our personal 40 day journey it helps us to recall our own Baptismal promises to reject sin and profess our faith. We reflect on who we really are before God and it helps us to think about our own personal relationship with Him. We take this time to examine our lives and pinpoint those areas which are in need of conversion. “St. Paul reminds us that Jesus, although He was God, emptied Himself, therefore showing us the way to resurrection and new life. Self denial helps us empty ourselves of all the unnecessary things in life and make room for God.” We as Christians should always be practicing this throughout our entire lives, but during Lent we “take special care and devotion so that the Lenten fast enjoyed by the apostles may be fulfilled, not simply by abstinence from food but above all by the renunciation of sin”. Jesus is the new Adam. Where Adam gave into temptation, Jesus did not, therefore winning back our Salvation in His supreme act of obedience. So Lent not only signifies where us as a people got a new start with God, but it is also a time where each of us as individuals can reconcile ourselves and a time to “fit ourselves back into God’s rhythm”!
During this time we create a desert-like environment not only by the décor of the church but with the Liturgy as well. We do not place flowers in the church but rather keep all décor rather muted and understated. The color purple is used to reflect our penance. The Alleluia (which vocalizes an extreme or unsurpassed level of expression of thanksgiving, joy and triumph) is neither said nor sang. In doing this it helps us remember our never-ending thirst for God and our hunger for the joy of the Risen Christ.
Jesus took time from His ordinary day to day activities and sought to better understand His life and mission, which He did through prayer and fasting. Jesus was able to triumph over Satan who sought to entice Him to abandon His true calling as the beloved Son of the Father. So must we, through the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, attempt to discard the clutter in our lives that prevents us from realizing our true nature as sons and daughters of God. Lent is a time of atonement and cleansing of the body and soul. Why do we celebrate Lent? For answers let us look at why Jesus went into the desert and let’s examine what He did.
When Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert, He was taken away from His normal activities that He was accustomed to. Once there, Jesus sought to better understand His life and Mission. Strengthened by prayer and fasting Jesus was able to resist temptation. Let us apply this to our lives. Jesus went into the desert where he experienced isolation. Many times when we are tested we experience that same type of isolation. We feel alone in our experience, like no one else is fully aware of what we are going through nor can they be of any help, and many times that is true. When we are tested, we feel the weight of the situation because we need to make the choices, we need to choose to turn to God for guidance and strength, and we need to either pass or fail the test. Temptation always brings choices, decisions, and a deeper understanding of who we are and what we are made of. Lent gives us a time to examine our lives and become aware of our temptations and to realize that good choices draw us closer to God, while sinful choices sidetrack us from our journey to salvation and weaken our relationship with God. Are we just tested during our Lenten season? Of course not, and that is why we are instructed to always be in tune with God and we are told to “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”. Jesus was tested several times throughout His life not just those three times and each time He followed the same discipline of prayer and fasting (not as long as like in the desert) but nevertheless, Jesus was always showing us the way of how we should deal with the temptations and tests that are laid at our feet and come before us. The “penitential practices proper to Lent are not about suffering for the sake of suffering; instead are meant to expand us beyond self-preoccupation…which leads us to concern for the good of others”. Lent is a time of conversion.
So all of these things come together; prayer, fasting, abstinence, almsgiving and the choice to change and bring about a new way of life. They all come together in this Lenten Season to not only bring about a better you, but a better family unit, a better community, and even more wide spread…a better world.