Lent is a special time of prayer, penance, sacrifice and good works in preparation of the celebration of Easter. In lent, much popular emphasis is placed on giving up things and fasting; a saying goes, "If you gave something up for the Lord, tough it out. Don't act like a Pharisee looking for a loophole." Rather, place your emphasis on performing spiritual works, like attending the Stations of the Cross, attending Mass, making a weekly holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, taking time for personal prayer and spiritual reading and most especially making a good confession and receiving sacramental absolution. Don't try to look or seem "sacrificial".
In his Lenten message for 2014, Pope Francis takes inspiration from the words of St. Paul (Cor 8:9), and asks us to contemplate Paul's invitation to live a life of evangelical poverty... taking up habits that are directed to helping and caring for others; and "lifting up" our brothers and sisters who are in need through prayer and devotion.
The key to fruitful observance of (lenten) practices is to recognize their link to baptismal renewal. We are called not just to abstain from sin during Lent, but to true conversion of our hearts and minds as followers of Christ. We recall those waters in which we were baptized into Christ's death, died to sin and evil, and began new life in Christ. Catholics must move beyond giving up candy to giving up some habit of sin that marks and defeats their lives.
o Three Pillars of Lent
- Fasting and abstinance: 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 (Roman) Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 through age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may also be taken, but not to equal a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the (Roman) Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.
- Ash Wednesday: Ashes are an ancient symbol of repentance (sackcloth and ashes). They also remind us of our mortality ("remember that you are dust") and thus of the day when we will stand before God and be judged... Being marked with ashes at the beginning of Lent indicates our recognition of the need for deeper conversion of our lives during this season of renewal.
- Almsgiving: Almsgiving is linked to our baptismal commitment in the same way. It is a sign of our care for those in need and an expression of our gratitude for all that God has given to us. Works of charity and the promotion of justice are integral elements of the Christian way of life we began when we were baptized.
- Prayer: More time given to prayer during Lent should draw us closer to the Lord. We might pray especially for the grace to live out our baptismal promises more fully. We might pray for the elect who will be baptized at Easter and support their conversion journey by our prayer. We might pray for all those who will celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation with us during Lent that they will be truly renewed in their baptismal commitment.
o Some Thoughts
- "Giving something up": Give up something more important than chocolate! Give up something that harms our relationships with other people, particularly those most close to us. Give up something that enhances our conversion, turning our lives more completely over to Christ and his way of life. That always involves giving up sin in some form. The goal is not just to abstain from sin for the duration of Lent but to root sin out of our lives forever. Conversion means leaving behind an old way of living and acting in order to embrace new life in Christ. So we must choose carefully what we will give up for lent.
- Meatless Fridays: This custom began as a way of reminding Christians that Christ died on Friday. It is a good "give up" because people like meat and miss it when it isn't served - so that by observing this sacrifice, one shows respect for God and for the death of His Son. Church practice says that chicken and dairy products are meats, but fish is not.
- Palm Sunday: In the accounts of the four canonical Gospels, Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem takes place about a week before his Resurrection. It was perceived that Jesus was declaring he was the King of Israel to the anger of the Sanhedrin. The celebrating people there laid down their cloaks in front of him, and also laid down small branches of trees. The people sang part of Psalm 118: 25–26 – ... "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord." The symbolism of the donkey may refer to the Eastern tradition that it is an animal of peace, versus the horse, which is the animal of war. Jesus' entry to Jerusalem would thus symbolize his entry as the Prince of Peace, not as a war-waging king.