With two weeks to go before Lent starts, have you given thought to the season of penance for this year? Are you preparing, now, by thinking of creative ways to make your Lenten Season more meaningful?
Ash Wednesday (March 01, 2017) is the beginning of Lent. It is the day we receive ashes on our foreheads, which reminds us that we were made from dust and our bodies will return to dust after our death–it is a penitential day, and it begins a period of penance that extends throughout the Lenten Season. On this day, many people wonder why we walk around with dirt smudges on our foreheads, yet as we know, they are not smudges–they are ashes that are formed into a cross shape. Think of the powerful witness that visual makes every year–millions of Catholics (and other Christians) go to work, school, etc., wearing ashes on their foreheads, and it still causes others to ask why. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is a mandatory day of fast and abstinence, as the Bishop’s conference states:
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence.
For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.
Receiving ashes is not a Christian requirement–it is not mandated by the Catholic Church, nor is it found in any Biblical or extra-Biblical document. For Catholics, fasting and abstinence are mandatory, though it is my hope that this year, Catholics do not look to those requirements as being a weight upon their shoulders. Instead, let us choose to embrace the work Jesus did for us by joyfully contemplating the 40 days our Lord wandered in the desert, and then meditate upon the many steps He took on the Way of the Cross.
It is the time of year during which we can do a hard reset on our spiritual life, and carefully consider what wrongful actions we might have committed during the previous year, or perhaps we committed acts that we know were on the borderline of sin. Will we repent and go to Confession during this season (perhaps more than once)?
Will we make serious sacrifices in our lives, not out of a sense of obligation but, from a genuine gratitude and love for the Lord that leads us to want to attach ourselves more fully to what He has done for us?
Each year, many of us will hear a plethora of sacrifices people choose to make during Lent (many give up candy, or give up drinking coffee, or give up desserts, etc.). Those are perfectly valid and beautiful sacrifices to make, for any time we give up something for the sake of our love of the Lord, it is good for our souls (and I say ‘well done’ to any Christian who makes a sacrifice of any kind). However, perhaps this year we will consider making sacrifices in a bit different way. Maybe, instead of giving up something like food or treats, we can give significant time each day for prayer, or maybe we will commit to spending time with the Lord in Church (for Catholics, in adoration of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament), or spend time each day reading the Bible, or spend time each day trying to help those around us. We each have a finite number of minutes, hours, days, weeks and years we will live; therefore, time truly is a precious commodity, which means joyfully giving our time to the Lord or to people in need, is a most incredible sacrifice.
Beyond the sacrifices listed above, perhaps you can choose to turn off the television, or break away from the video games, and spend time with your family, or maybe you can take regular walks with your spouse, or say prayers as a family—there are so many ways to give up your daily routines and enrich your walk with the Lord and deepen your relationships; it takes only a smidge of creativity too find a meaningful sacrifice. If you are an infrequent attender at Mass or other Church services, maybe this Lent you can change that by attending every week—and if you are a Catholic, and you find yourself wanting more, try attending daily Mass throughout Lent. But as I have said in the past, be aware that such practices might become too enjoyable to stop after Lent concludes.
Whatever you choose to do this Lenten Season, try to make it count–stretch yourself beyond your comfort zones. When Lent is done, and we celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Day, let’s look back and know we gave of ourselves this season. After all, who does not respect and love a person who holds a sacrificial, humble, and grateful heart?
You’re welcome to leave your thoughts in the comments.
May you have a blessed Ash Wednesday, and a Holy and productive Lent. 🙂
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