Lent is my favorite season of the liturgical year. It can easily be thought of as a somber or gloomy period, with a focus on giving things up or carrying a cross. We enter forty days of penance and prayer, as we prepare for Easter. Yet, there is great joy found in recommitting to our faith. Our hearts are renewed, as we are invited into the deep love of God.
In Lent, we are invited to embrace and practice the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Of course, these are disciplines we could practice every day of the year. Yet, so often we fall short—distracted or sidetracked. I know well the sentiment of St. Paul, in Romans 7:19: “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.”
Lent is an intentional time for individuals and communities to begin again. We gather together, hold one another accountable in a new way, and commit to pray, fast, and give alms. We commit to refocus and draw near to our God—seeking purification, enlightenment, and mercy.
A gift of Lent is the joy, comfort and grace we experience as we are called into a deeper relationship with God. As we are formed by God’s forgiving, redeeming love, we are transformed in the way we think, speak and act. During Lent, all things lead us toward this transformation.
In his 2019 Message for Lent, Pope Francis offers provocative encouragement and guidance on our Lenten journey. He reminds us Lent is a journey of conversion—opening ourselves ever deeper to the priceless gift of God’s mercy. “The path to Easter demands that we renew our faces and hearts as Christians through repentance, conversion and forgiveness, so as to live fully the abundant grace of the pascal mystery.”
Fasting: We are invited to take a fresh look at how we might fast this Lent: Pope Francis suggests that fasting is “learning to change our attitude towards others and all of creation, turning away from the temptation to ‘devour’ everything to satisfy our voracity and being ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our hearts.” This experience of fasting is a challenge. It asks so much more than giving something up. It asks us to go deep into our attitudes, assumptions and actions—and to move concretely toward a love that can hold joy, as well as pain, in our relationships.
Prayer: Our prayer can shape and change us. Pope Francis invites us to embrace “prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy.” We are invited into a deep peace that recognizes our powerlessness—coming to believe the love of God will sustain, heal and save us.
Almsgiving: What do we keep and what do we give away? Again, Pope Francis challenges us: “Almsgiving, whereby we escape from insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us.” Almsgiving brings us freedom.
“Let us not allow this season to pass in vain!” Let us embrace Lent together. Let us say “yes” to the disciplines of our faith—finding joy individually and collectively, as we are transformed by God’s love.