Today begins the annual time of penance and preparation for the glory of Easter. Yet, even our atheistic friends can benefit from the challenges posed by the season of Lent.
As children, we all probably recall friends who observed the time. One heard, “what are you giving up for Lent?” I recall many a friend of mine in childhood who blanched suddenly, eyes growing big as saucers. “What’s wrong?” we would ask. And there would be a mumbled “I gave up french fries for Lent” as the offending food slid down the throat unwillingly.
While we still do “give up” things, some of them even food items, we also “give up” old ways that have proven untenable, harmful, or hurtful. We often “add” practices that are designed to bring us in a more constant “present moment” with the divine.
It is a poor Christian who arrives at Lent, and then decides what practices will be adhered to during the 40 days. It requires a certain amount of thought and prayer. We spend the time in the last weeks and days before Lent in preparing. We contemplate, we uncover, we decide what needs fixing, where we have failed, how we can correct wrongs done.
But even if we give no thought until today, we can still do this. I don’t think God is concerned if we only get in 39 days or 38. It’s the sincerity that counts.
For those who are not in faith, why, Lent provides that same incentive to better ourselves, to end bad habits, to acquire new ones. Indeed it’s ever so much better than New Year’s resolutions. They mostly fail, because the great maw of “forever” brings us to a halt almost before we begin. Observing Lent only requires a commitment to stick with it for 40 days, (more actually since weekends aren’t counted), and that is doable.
Who among us is perfect? Who can’t stand a bit of tweaking around the edges? Who doesn’t want to repair a broken friendship or family relationship? Who doesn’t want to start a new creative endeavor, read more, or engage in more hands-on volunteer work? Now’s the time to make that commitment to stick with it for a few weeks.
Time for a new habit to become a tried and true one. Time to evaluate and institute a change here or there. Time to uncover something more deeply seeded in one’s psyche.
For the faithful, Lent is a time to mourn our failings and offer small penances to God (really to ourselves), attaching consequences to our wrongs. It is our opportunity to grow close to our Lord in his suffering as He chose to show his followers the depths of his belief in the path that he shows us is true communion with our Creator. It is our time to work at our sainthood, distant and unlikely as it may well be.
It is odd that we remember the old question: “What are you giving up for Lent?” for in Matthew, Jesus told his disciples the exact opposite. Don’t let the left hand know what the right is doing. Don’t pray in public, nor lament over your fasting. Don’t make a public display of your “righteousness”. (Matt 6: 1-6)
There is no righteousness in shouting to the world all you are doing in Lent. If you are sincere, then keeping those things between you and God are all that is necessary. If your chosen practices are truly meant to improve you, then, no one need be aware.
Take a moment and think whether you might benefit from some changing act or practice during the next few weeks, safely aware that it need not last forever, but just might, if you don’t impose a forever commitment. You might be surprised at the wonders that come your way.
Blessings my dear friends.