Lent: 40 days of repentance and conversion

February 25, 2014

HOUSTON — Ash Wednesday, March 5, will mark the beginning of the season of Lent. Each year, the Church embarks on a 40-day journey of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. 

It is a season of repentance and conversion, inviting all to return to God through Christ’s love and grace.

In his first message for Lent since his election as the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis offered some thoughts on the theme “He became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9).”

“Christ’s poverty is the greatest treasure of all,” the pontiff explains, noting that “Jesus’ wealth is that of His boundless confidence in God the Father, His constant trust, His desire always and only to do the Father’s will and give glory to Him.”

Many traditional Lenten practices reinforce these themes. They are reminders of the need for God and reliance upon Him, as well as the call to live as heralds of the Gospel message.

Fasting normally involves limiting the amount of food one can eat, specifically one full meal. 

Two smaller meals may be taken, not to equal one full meal. This is obligatory for all who have completed their 18th year and have not yet reached their 60th year. Abstinence (from meat) is obligatory for all who are 14 or older.

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fast and abstinence. Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence.

The practice can also include fasting from those things which separate people from God and others. 

Fasting from gossip, meanness or jealousy can strengthen relationships. The trend “media fasts” — not watching TV, movies or listening to music — and “social media fasts” — not participating or interacting on social media — during Lent can free up more time for prayer and service.

“Lent is a fitting time for self-denial,” Pope Francis explained. “We would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”

Prayer can take many forms. However, during the season of Lent, Catholics are encouraged to pray fervently. 

This can include reading and praying over sacred Scripture, studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or participating in devotions offered by the parish. 

Traditional Lenten prayers, such as the Stations of the Cross and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, place special emphasis on prayer and contemplation on the passion and death of Jesus.

Lent is also privileged time for celebrating the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. During the Lenten and Easter time, Catholics are reminded that they are obliged to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance at least once a year. 

In fact, the faithful are encouraged to seek reconciliation in every aspect of their lives — personal, familial, societal and ecclesial.

Almsgiving, the act of giving to the poor, is an expression of penance, a form of piety, a witness of charity and an expression of Lenten conversion. It involves a sharing of time, talents and treasure for the benefit of those in need.

Archdiocesan ministries such as Catholic Charities (www.catholiccharities.org) and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (www.svdphouston.org) provide opportunities to serve some of the most needy and vulnerable in the area.

In his message, the Holy Father hopes “this Lenten season find[s] the whole Church ready to bear witness to all those who live in material, moral and spiritual destitution the Gospel message of the merciful love of God our Father, who is ready to embrace everyone in Christ. We can do this to the extent that we imitate Christ who became poor and enriched us by His poverty.”