The journey of Lent: Figuring out the path to Easter
February 28, 2017
It is that time of year again... the beginning of our Lenten season. What to do or not to do for Lent? What should I give up this year? These are common questions we ask ourselves as we begin our Lenten journey. What if, for this year, we look at Lent as a true journey?
As with all journeys, first we need to know the destination and then make appropriate plans. The destination of the Lenten journey is Easter.
Early in its development, Lent quickly became associated with the Sacrament of Baptism, which took place at Easter. In the beginning, only those who were preparing to be baptized at Easter participated in the season. Eventually, those who were already baptized considered it important to join these candidates. Here we are, centuries later, as an entire Church preparing for Easter during Lent. For Catholics, Lent is a spiritual journey from Ash Wednesday to the Triduum, which begins on the evening of Holy Thursday.
As we prepare for journeys, we usually do our research regarding the route we will be traveling. Research shows that Lent, as we know it, was not as it was in the beginning. During the first three centuries of Christian experience, preparation for the Easter feast usually only covered a period of one or two days, perhaps a week at the most; short in comparison to our 40-day Lenten season. During the time of St. Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. AD 140-202) the preparation for Easter was only a 40-hour time period. The first reference to a period of 40-days preparation can be found in the teachings of the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. By the end of the fourth century, a Lenten period of 40 days was established and accepted.
Once you have decided on a destination and did some research, it is time to pack. What tools do we need in order to have a productive and life-changing Lent? We all have been taught that Lent is a time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Through the practice of prayer, fasting and works of charity, we attempt to conform our lives to the life of Christ. When deciding what to fast from, one should examine their life and ask themselves whether what they are fasting from will bring them closer to Christ. Perhaps giving up chocolate or soda might not be the best choice. Ask yourself instead, what is standing in the way of a closer relationship with Christ? Give some prayerful thought to this.
Is it spending too much time in front of the television? Or perhaps hitting the snooze button instead of getting up and spending time in prayer before you begin your day. With regard to fasting, currently the only two days the Church actually asks you to fast are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The Church also asks you to abstain from eating meat on the Fridays during Lent. When you abstain from meat on Friday, it is good to remain in the spirit of fasting. In doing so, you might decide that eating a lobster dinner might be more appropriate outside of Lent. There are alternative meal suggestions available through Catholic Relief Services’ Lenten Rice Bowl campaign at www.crs.org.
While prayer is always essential for Catholics, special attention should be paid during our Lenten journey. The Friday tradition of the Stations of the Cross is very popular during Lent. If you cannot make your parish’s Stations of the Cross, perhaps you can take time out of your day and meditate on the Passion of the Lord. Another suggestion is to learn a new form of prayer or change your prayer routine. Try meditation, contemplation, the daily Examen, or Lectio Divina. All of these forms of prayer can be found with a quick search on the Internet.
Giving alms may be financial or it may also be giving of oneself for the benefit of another. Two saints that might be helpful to reflect upon are St. Francis of Assisi and St. Claire. They lived a life of poverty, penance and self-sacrifice. “To share in the life of Christ, one also had to die with Him.” Both wrote numerous themes for Lenten and Easter seasons; penance, conversion, self-sacrifice, service, embracing the cross, the humility and charity of Christ, joy, new life, and mission.
Make the most of this Lent. We all want to share in the Easter Resurrection of Jesus, but are we willing to walk the journey to Calvary with Him? Lent is a time to share in Jesus’ journey. If, for whatever reason, you break your fast or forget to do what you promised, just begin again. Don’t give up and quit. Going forward is the only way to get to your destination. Ask Jesus to help you. “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning” [Heb. 4:15].
Deborah Jones is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.