It is hard to believe that Lent starts in just a few days. I do not know about you, but it often feels like Lent sneaks up on me, and then I scramble for something to do for the season of Lent. As a result, I do not think I always celebrate Lent the way I should. I do not give enough thought about what I need to do to become closer to Jesus as an active member of the Church.
Last year I made the decision to prepare for the Season of Lent. That is, I made a deliberate effort to pray nine days before the start of Lent to ask God to help me to do whatever I could to become closer to him. Remember that last year we were in the start of the pandemic, and everything seemed chaotic and difficult.
So as we begin preparing for Lent, we need to consider the most important question. What is it God wants me to do for Lent so I may become closer to him? Let’s remember Lent is not meant to be simply a test of our will power. Can we give up chocolate for a few weeks? Can I do without soda (or pop)? Can I stop using social media or put down my phone?
See, the primary purpose of Lent is to get closer to Jesus. And because the Church is the bride of Christ, a deeper relationship with Jesus happens by developing a deeper relationship with the Church and its members. Because all persons are made in God’s image and likeness, a deeper relationship with Jesus means a deeper relationship with all others. And, boy do we need to reevaluate our relationships with others.
Moreover, throughout the bible we are warned about performing acts for people to see. When you decide to “give up” something for Lent, do you then need to make sure everyone around you knows that is what you are doing? Truth is, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us to see that true penance begins on the inside and is not immediately visible on the outside.
“Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes,” fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.” (CCC, no. 1430)
The reading we first hear every Ash Wednesday reminds us of the importance of interior conversion. “Rend your hearts, and not your garments.” (Joel 2:13) The act of rending clothing was a sign of grief and dying. Lent reminds us we must die to our sin. We must turn away from those evil actions, attitudes and dispositions that lead us away from God and the persons he has made us to be.
And this is where Lent comes in. What keeps you from God? Is it that you need to pray more? Then fast from whatever activities keep you from praying. Find yourself eating too much because you are bored? Then fast from chocolate, snacks, or whatever else provides comfort. Find yourself unable to empathize with the poor and the suffering? Then sacrifice something that saves money and give it to the poor. Sometimes we cannot empathize with the poor because we do not know what it is like to go without material things.
Lent invites us to consider coming closer to God by prayer, fasting and almsgiving. How exactly do we do this? And what is it we should do? This is where Preparing for Lent comes in. In these nine days before the start of Lent, we will seek to provide ways to ask God to help you to identify what it is that you need to do to grow closer to God.
The most important thing is that we need not to view the season of Lent simply as a time where we hate ourselves or feel badly about ourselves. It is not first and foremost a time when we need to beat ourselves up over all the things we fail at doing in our lives. No, it is a time to realize and recognize those ways we limit what God can do in our lives, and to accept what God offers us in our lives. Imagine if we stopped selling ourselves short about what we can become, and accepted the person God has made us to be, our true selves.
And so, where is it you need God more in your life? In what ways do you shut God out of your life? Where is it you do not believe that God has amazing hopes for you? Stop selling yourself short. Recognize and accept the awesome gift you are by living as God wants you to live. Look for all of the blessings and graces God so desperately wishes to have you accept from him. Lent is the time. See, God is so madly in love with each one of us. The dreams God has for us are awesome indeed. Lent is the time to learn this.