The Weekly Word: Appreciating the Lenten Season
By Fr. Tom Heathershaw, Pastor, Immaculate Conception Parish, Charles City; and St. Michael, Nashua
The season of Lent is slowly becoming my favorite liturgical season on the church calendar, right next to Advent and Christmas.
When I was younger Catholic, I used to find the season of Lent a little annoying and an inconvenience because it is a penitential season that encompasses several different disciplines: abstaining from meat on Fridays, fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and taking up some sort of spiritual practice.
We are also called to focus on the pillars of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
I always thought a lot of “spiritual baggage” came with the Lenten season, and the Catholic Church told us to do these things for no good reason. But as I learned more about these disciplines and the reason why we do these things, I was able to enter more spiritually into these practices. Lent is a time for spiritual reflection and growth.
Many critics of the Catholic Church believe the Church puts too much of a burden on Catholics with our moral teaching and practices, but there are always reasons why the Church teaches what she does, which always goes back to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel from Ash Wednesday, Jesus gives us the command of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. These practices help us to take stock of our life and recognize what material things we might be too focused on or cling to that takes away from our relationship with God.
Material possessions and riches of themselves are not bad things, but we need to have a proper perspective on material things. Created things are fleeting. We are called to focus on those things which are eternal.
These disciplines also help us focus outward, toward God and toward our neighbors whom are made in God’s image and likeness.
As St. Therese of Lisieux said, “Prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and love.” Prayer is the very source of our relationship with God, and how we grow to love him even more.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a beautiful and deep reflection on prayer in the life of a Christian.
On fasting, the Catechism says, “Fasting is refraining from food and drink as an expression of interior penance, in imitation of the fast of Jesus for 40 days in the desert.” Fasting helps us to be detached from the things of this world, that we may be focused more on the things of heaven.
And finally, the Catechism says that almsgiving – money or goods given to the poor as an act of penance or fraternal charity – together with prayer and fasting, “are traditionally recommended to foster the state of interior penance.”
These practices help us to prepare for the great celebration of the Easter season, in which we commemorate Christ’s victory over death with his resurrection.
May we all find joy in that hope for eternal life through our faith in Christ.