For those who are not Catholic, Lent can be a mysterious ritual. Heck, even for those of us who ARE of the Catholic faith, it is STILL a mysterious time. Each year, we recreate ourselves in pursuit of the perfection of our Lord.
First, let me clarify what Lent is not. Ash Wednesday is not the starting line for “begin your diet now” Lenten observers. Lent is not one day of dirty foreheads. Lent is not just the end of wild revelry like Mardi Gras or Carnival. And Lent is not just for those who attend the Catholic church – anyone can observe Lent, as formally or as informally as they wish.
Now, to clarify what Lent is. The Lenten experience is different for everyone who truly dives into it. The Catholic Church observes a season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts until the Triduum. The Triduum are the three days just prior to the grand celebration of Easter: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil. To prepare ourselves for the grandness of the events of the Triduum and Easter Sunday, we spend our “time in the desert” preparing our spiritual selves. We imitate Christ by spending time preparing ourselves for ministry. Whether we are called to live as Christians in the secular world, or to wear a collar or habit, we all have the ministry to nourish ourselves and others with the Word. To do this properly, we must seek Jesus and to follow His ways.
Lent is known as a time of sacrifice and self-discipline. Giving up something valuable is not a popular practice, especially in these modern times. By practicing self-discipline, we remind ourselves of the sacrifice He made for us, and we flex our spiritual muscles by constantly reminding ourselves of what we are doing, and why. Being tempted by that candy bar in the store and forcing that temptation into a corner not only makes us stronger by not adding on the pounds, but the reminder of why we did not succumb reminds us of who we are, and to whom we belong. While chocolate is one of the more popular sacrifices (and speaking as a true chocoholic, it IS a sacrifice!), there are other things that we can sacrifice as well. Increasing our donations to our church, giving up our precious TV time to help out at a charity, passing up that gossip magazine – there are as many ways to improve ourselves by “giving up” as there are individuals.
In addition to “giving up,” Lent is also a time of “building up”. In addition to self-discipline, which gives us strength to get through the desert, we are encouraged to improve our spirituality, which is the road map through the desert. Being strong without purpose helps no one. Increased prayer time, reading the Bible, studying Christ, experiencing a retreat – these are all ways to bring ourselves closer the one who saved us. This provides direction for our lives. With Christ at our side as our guide, we travel in a straight line through the desert.
At the end of Lent, we face the long Easter season stronger emotionally and spiritually than when we began. How much stronger depends upon how far into the desert we tread. How many temptations will we face? That depends upon our sacrifice. Giving up something that is not important is not much of a sacrifice, and the spiritual trek won’t go far. Spending no time in spiritual preparation merely leaves on wandering aimlessly in circles, dipping into and out of the experience, as one would do at the edge of the wilderness.
So I leave you this Lent, wishing much sacrifice and much spiritual growth. I won’t challenge you – your challenges are yours to define. Just remember that the celebration that is Easter is like an oasis on the other side of the desert, where your thirst will be quenched. How big the oasis will be, and how deep and clear the water, will depend upon your willingness to tackle the challenge of Lent. In the spirit of Lent, I wish for you an arduous trip through your desert, so that you can dive deeply into the clean, clear, cool water of your Easter oasis!