A Holy Lent

One of the many great things about being a Catholic is that we have a rhythm in our faith lives.  Each season of the Church evokes a different spirit within us and our worship is enriched and deepened by the regular changes in focus and feel.  In Advent, we prepare for the gift of Jesus at Christmas.  During Christmas, we celebrate Christ’s coming as the great Light foretold for generations.  Today begins another season, that of Lent.  You probably saw various news reports this week about Mardi Gras celebrations around the country.  Unfortunately, most people have lost the connection between “Fat Tuesday” and today, Ash Wednesday.  The celebration of Carnival, literally “leaving meat”, originated as a kind of counterweight to the austerity of Lent.  Carnival also points to the exuberance of Easter and the joy of the Resurrection, which is still yet to come.  During Lent, we journey with Christ, walking to Jerusalem with Him, as He prepares for His Passion and Death on the Cross.

St. Augustine helps us to understand what Lent is all about when he writes:  “The entire life of a good Christian is in fact an exercise of holy desire.  You do not see what you long for, but the very act of desiring prepares you, so that when He comes, you may see and be utterly satisfied.”  Lent is an exercise of this holy desire.  Most of the time, our lives seem to be filled with the “distractions” of everyday living:  work, problems, and anything that takes our minds off our work and our problems.  None of these things are bad in themselves, but they can keep us from seeing what we really long for.  Lent is a time to put aside some of these diversions and get in touch with the true Object of our longing that St. Augustine wrote about.

Jesus is our hearts’ desire and we can know His heart by spending prayerful time in the Gospels.  He shows us there how can be like Him and how we can know and serve God.  This is our Lenten journey.  Christ is our example of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving — the three traditional pathways we walk during Lent.  His withdrawal into prayer, His practice of fasting and His acts of charity, mercy, and healing should be our Lenten exercises as well.  When we abstain from meat on Fridays, when we spend regular time in prayer, especially in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and when we reach out to help others, we are putting aside some of the selfish diversions of our lives.  When we imitate Christ in these ways, we allow Him to change our hearts and we prepare to honor what He has done for us through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

We each choose what we will get out of every Lent.  As we are marked today with ashes on our foreheads, we hear the words of the priest urging us to turn from our sin and return to the Gospel of Christ.  How we choose to do this, to turn our hearts to God, is up to us.  This turning back to God, in Greek “metanoia”, is what we do every Lent and we do it again today–in the midst of all the diversions in our lives, in the midst of our own sinfulness.  God comes always to fetch us back to Himself, to our hearts’ desire, our holy longing for union with Him.  “God means to fill each of you with what is good, so cast out what is bad!  If He wishes to fill you with honey and you are full of sour wine, where is the honey to go?  The vessel must be emptied of its’ contents and then cleansed.”  St. Augustine (354-430 AD)

Lent is a season of cleansing and of preparation. It’s a time of putting things aside and clearing things out so that we can once again see what and Who is most important to us. Lent can be a “spring cleaning” of the heart and it can reveal to us the rooms inside that we’ve not yet invited Christ to come into. Renewing and refreshing, Lent is a joyful time if we only allow our Lord to take control and fill us with His holy love.

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