As Lent quickly approaches, I reflect on how it is one of the most thought provoking periods for me during the liturgical year. I must admit though, this has not always been the case.
My early recollections of Lent, as a young child growing up in an Italian family in Montreal are quite vivid. I recall a somewhat gloomy period of sacrifice that consisted of giving up red meat on Fridays. By contrast, Palm Sunday was joyful. I was mesmerized by the waving of palms during mass in our crowded church and carrying our palms home and learning to make pretty crosses that we proudly displayed in our home. Good Friday was a somber day. It was difficult watching outdoor reenactments of the stations of the cross and trying to fathom what it was like for Jesus. I remember wondering why it was called “good” Friday when Jesus suffered so much for us. But Easter Sunday came and we rejoiced. Jesus is risen! It was a special time – a rebirth – a celebration with family. We feasted on lamb, rabbit and made traditional delicacies – beautiful eggs wrapped in bread braids.
Today, Lent takes on a much deeper purpose in my life. It’s truly a special time for spiritual growth. No longer do I think of it as only a period of sacrifice and abstinence. It is much more than that. It is also about reflection, repentance and almsgiving. I embrace lent, as it gives me the opportunity to get closer to God. It allows me to prepare for Easter, similar to how Advent prepares us for Christmas.
Lent is the time where I focus on God and make a more concerted effort to put Him first in my life. I spend much time thinking and reflecting on my relationship with God. It’s a challenging time where I take a hard look in the mirror and identify where I can make changes – where my walk does not match my talk.
Fasting and Abstinence
In addition to the usual abstinence and fasting on holy days, I gave long thought to what I would give up this year during Lent. Years ago, coffee, chocolate and sweets would have been contenders. However, I needed to look deeper. I wanted to choose something that perhaps was taking me away from God. Giving something up is great, but taking action is even better.
When I identified what I wanted to give up during Lent, it made me become aware how much I depend on other things rather than God and how they are leading me away or neglecting Him. Inspired by Pope Francis’ humility, I’m giving up all personal shopping for things that I want – rather than things I need. And maybe at the end of the 40 day journey, I’ll depend on material things less, thus altering my behavior.
Lent is also a time to evangelize and do good. It’s a time to remember all those less fortunate and give back. I will redirect time and money that would have been spent shopping for material things, and instead will participate with my family in feeding people at a homeless shelter and donating a few grocery items every week to a food bank.
Reflection & Repentance
In this very noise-filled and media-cluttered world, it is becoming harder to hear God’s voice. Add to that how time-starved we are, with a growing list of to-do items every day. But where is God on my to-do list? How often do I spend quality time with God in silence, meditating, praying and repenting? This is why I vow to turn off all distractions and spend an hour in silence every day dedicated to prayer and reflection. After all, if my goal this Lent is to grow in my relationship with God, how can I do so without spending more one on one time? I look forward to the Holy Spirit guiding me further on what I am called to do.
Perhaps my thoughts will inspire you to share your own personal journey with others in your life. Even though Lent is a personal time, the peace and joy we feel is even greater when we share it with others in our lives. Not only does this strengthen our faith, but it strengthens our sense of community with our brothers and sisters.
Matthew 5:16 “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
CNS photo/Octavio Duran