The challenge of Lent-Easter-Pentecost is quite different from the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle. Our culture provides little competition during Lent (as opposed to the busyness and extravagance of Advent). By and large, we are free to observe Lent/Easter with little interference from society. That this is so, however, may be a sign that we have not been observing this ninety-day cycle very well.
The Lent/Easter/Pentecost season is the heart of the year: a time when the whole community is renewed for mission and sent forth to change the face of the earth. If we were really doing our job as Christians, our society might well object to us keeping the season well, for it should motivate us to preach the Gospel, confronting many of the structures of our society.
The Meaning of Lent
Two words come to mind when Lent is mentioned: baptism and conversion. Baptism certainly means support for those coming into the church, but also a deep renewal of our own Baptismal promises.
The purpose of penance is not to browbeat ourselves for being sinful humans, but to help us gauge, and shorten, the distance between our present lives and God’s dream for us.
Lent is a reflection on the human condition: where I am in relation to God and to others? It isn’t just about me and God. It’s about all I do, all we do, in relation to others and all of creation. We are called to look at our world. What would the world look like if the Kingdom of God was here? We are responsible for what we are guilty of, but more than that. We may not be guilty about the things going on around us, but as Christians we are responsible. Guilt is about the past; responsibility is about the future. Lent calls us to reflect on what is really important in life. (Many times people think Lent is about focusing on death; it’s about life!)
A Word about Lenten Resolutions
There is something that has always “bothered” me about Lenten resolutions, somehow didn’t make sense to me. If Lent is about change, becoming more and more the person I am supposed to be, why do we make resolutions that we can’t wait for Lent to be over, so that we can return to our former way of living (e.g. giving up candy, smoking, drinking, etc.) Granted, there might be some resolutions that are appropriate to do for just forty days.
However, if Lent is really about conversion and change, shouldn’t we look at some resolutions that are things we want to do during Lent so that they then become a permanent part of our life? If we take ten minutes for prayer each Lenten day, are we going to stop that when Lent is over? If we decide to work for peace and justice during the Lenten season, are we going to watch the clock for Lent to be over so that we can end that resolution? If we try to give up negativity, do we return to our negative and judgmental comments when the Easter season comes?
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