In four more days, churches will experience what turns out to be the highest single-day attendance of the year (https://bustedhalo.com/blogs/kickingandscreaming/the-popularity-of-ash-wednesday). Ash Wednesday sees Catholics (and probably other Christians whose denominations offer services) flocking to their parish churches for a reminder of their sinfulness and to kick off a season of penitential practices that even Catholics who rarely attend Mass otherwise will observe.
Lent happens to be my favorite season of the church year. In welcoming Lent, in planning what I am going to do in observance of this season, I feel a greater sense of new beginnings and a stronger pull toward serving God than I feel even at Christmas and with the new year in January. One reason probably is the settling of spirit that comes with the season’s focus on acknowledging our sinfulness and our need for repentance. It’s also partly rooted in renewing our understanding that our faith is founded in the Resurrection but that without the Cross, there would be no Resurrection.
In other words, Jesus died on the Cross once, giving Himself once for all time to redeem our sins. Yet because we continue to be sinful and to sin, we need to keep tapping into that redemption, that mercy, that forgiveness that He expressed in His sacrifice. It’s not that His redemptive act removed our need for repentance and forgiveness; it’s that because of His redemptive act, forgiveness is available to us and we have the grace to be repentant.
And it is this wonderful confluence of sacrifice and love and redemption that makes Easter possible. It is here that we will eventually once more trumpet our alleluias and celebrate with joy.
But first, isn’t it appropriate that we step back for a moment from the joy to remember what got us here in the first place? Isn’t is proper for us to focus on both the need for repentance and the ultimate acts of love and sacrifice and suffering that make our repentance worth anything at all?
The observance of Lent gives us a quiet space in which to reflect on who Jesus is, what He did for us in His life and death, and the privilege that we have of knowing how it all turns out — that His sacrifice, His offering of Himself, continues without ceasing precisely because it was not the end, but the beginning.
Lent is the way for us to join in the beginning of His redemptive act, so that we can recognize that without Him, we’d have no way of being part of the future outcome of it.
I’m part of a small faith-sharing group that will be meeting throughout Lent, and I expressed to the group this past week that Lent is my favorite Liturgical season. That comment started a discussion about what we all hope to gain during this coming Lent, and what we might do to achieve that. All of our ideas shared a common theme of deepening faith and a closer relationship with Jesus, and we all left the table with a new desire to grow in Him through these coming weeks.
The universal question among Catholics (and even non-Catholics) about this time is, “What are you giving up for Lent?” I’m not giving up a single thing for Lent, unless you want to count the release from habits and attachments that separate me from my Lord as “giving up.” My plan for Lent is to gain something: a stronger, deeper prayer life through Lectio Divina, a closer walk with Jesus through meditation, and a closer bond with our Blessed Mother as I consider, through praying the Rosary, her love for us in the constant “Yes” she offered to God.
And while I’m at it, I’m going to pray that all those people who find their way to Ash Wednesday Mass will continue to seek and find the deeper faith that the practices of Lent can bring.
Leave a Reply