Holy Season of Lent
The season of Lent is the time of preparation for the feast of the Resurrection of Christ. It is the living symbol of man’s entire life which is to be fulfilled in his own resurrection from the dead with Christ. It is a time of renewed devotion: of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It is a time of repentance, a real renewal of our minds, hearts and deeds in conformity with Christ and His teachings. It is the time, most of all, of our return to the great commandments of loving God and our neighbors.
Lent is not a season of morbidity and gloominess. On the contrary, it is a time of joyfulness and purification. We are called to “anoint our faces” and to “cleanse our bodies as we cleanse our souls.” In the Eastern Catholic Church one of the verses of the very first hymns of the very first service of Lent sets the right tone of the season:
Let us begin the Lenten time with delight . . . let us fast from passions as we fast from food, taking pleasure in the good words of the Spirit, that we may be granted to see the holy passion of Christ our God and his holy Pascha, spiritually rejoicing. Thy grace has arisen upon us, O Lord, the illumination of our souls has shown forth; behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the time of repentance. (Vespers Hymn for Lent)
It is our repentance that God desires, not our remorse. We sorrow for our sins, but we do so in the joy of God’s mercy. We mortify our flesh, but we do so in the joy of our resurrection into life everlasting. We make ready for the resurrection during Great Lent, both Christ’s Resurrection and our own.
Beware of those who say “you don’t need to fast, or give alms or pray,” many voices, even in the church today, want to water down the need for repentance and self-denial. Scripture makes it very clear that prayer, fasting and almsgiving are necessary for our transformation.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous* will answer him and say, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you? And the king will say to them in reply, Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me. Then he will say to those on his left: Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me. Then they will answer and say, Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs? He will answer them, Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.
And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
On the other hand, if we think of Lent as a season to earn God’s favor by our good intentions or good works, then you’ve got a problem. God’s grace has been fully given to us in Christ. We can’t earn it by doing extra things or by giving up certain other things in fasting. If you see Lent as a time to make yourself more worthy for celebrating Good Friday and Easter, then perhaps you shouldn’t keep the season until you’ve grown in your understanding of grace. If, on the contrary, you see Lent as a time to grow more deeply in God’s grace, then you’re approaching Lent from a proper perspective.
The Scriptures constantly remind us, as does the passage above from St. Matthew’s Gospel, that if we wish to draw closer to God, then one of the things that is necessary is to draw close to our neighbor, especially the one in need: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” To love God and enter into a deeper relationship with Him means I must be open to loving my neighbor more. Lent helps us to do this – by forgetting ourselves, and practicing self-denial, we learn that we’re not the center of the universe and that true joy comes from loving others.
I encourage us all to make time for Christ this Lenten season. Be renewed in His love for you.