Lent is one of the most important seasons of the year. Lent prepares the faithful for Holy Week, for those sacred days in the Church calendar when we celebrate the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
Now that the Church has entered into the Lenten Season, we must look upon the role Lent plays in the life of the Church as well as that of the individual.
Much of the focus of Lent is on conversionâ€”turning oneâ€™s life over to Christ and living the way He calls us to. Such conversion and radical change requires self-denial. We want things that we should not want. St. Paul recognizes this in his letter to the Romans when he says, â€śWhat I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.â€ť Every person born with Original Sin faces this same dilemma at some point in their spiritual journey. Lent provides the opportunity to refocus oneâ€™s thinking on how to grow closer to God and farther away from evil.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads, â€śThe interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all in several forms; fasting and abstinence, prayer and charity, and almsgiving and self-denial, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to othersâ€ť (CCC 1434). With these three pillars of Lenten observance being so closely linked to conversion, it is right that they be more closely examined.
Fasting and abstinence
The essence of fasting is not about foodâ€”or the lack of itâ€”but instead about sacrifice for the benefit of our spiritual lives. The focus of sacrifice â€“ or self-denial â€“ such as from food, should not be on the object of sacrifice, but rather to move distractions out of the way from our view of Christ. To draw upon symbolism of the Church, the light of Christ should not be blocked or distorted by worldly things, even necessary things such a food. By focusing upon the spiritual, oneâ€™s heart and mind is more properly aligned with that of Christ.
When fasting, or abstaining from meat, this Lenten Season try not to just â€śfollow the motions,â€ť so to speak, but make an extra attempt to use it as an opportunity to improve upon the spiritual areas of oneâ€™s life that need a refocusing.
Prayer and charity
All Catholics are called to a prayer life that is both diverse and rich. A diverse prayer life includes both personal and corporate prayer, in which the faithful grow closer to both Christ Himself, as well as to the Church He founded. During Lent our prayer life should not only grow, but it should focus upon the areas of life in which we might have fallen short of Godâ€™s expectationâ€”in other words, where we have sinned.
Sin is a significant contributor to spiritual depravity, and separation from God and His Church, because it is a moral break from the Lordâ€™s will. By taking time to reflect upon sin and drawing oneself closer to Jesus, who is risen on Easter Sunday, we as Church learn more about our heavenly Father and about ourselves as individuals.
Almsgiving, while often mentioned as the last of the three traditional pillars of the Lenten observance, is certainly not the least of the three and is often completely misunderstood. As with fasting and abstinence, almsgiving is an act of self-denial since these funds are made available for others rather than for self-use. Simply put, almsgiving is an expression of charity and assistance extended to the needy. It is no secret that there are many in our world who go hungry, are not given proper medical care, and have an array of varying needs that go unmet. The Church works diligently to provide for the spiritual AND physical needs of each individual.
By almsgiving during Lent, one not only expresses care for those in need, but also expresses a sign of gratitude for all God has provided in oneâ€™s life. These acts of charity are connected to the responsibilities of living the Faith that begins with baptism and is reignited in the Sacrament of Confirmation. All bear responsibility in helping our brothers and sisters in Christ, but it takes prayer and reflection to understand how God is calling individuals to give of themselves.
Christ died so that we might live more full and abundant lives. May all within the Diocese of Venice find consolation in Christâ€™s salvific Passion, Death and Resurrection and be brought closer to the point of our Faith: Jesus.