It is in these dark and still nights, these desert times, that the soul experiences its greatest growth. There, in the inner arena, the soul battles the world, the flesh and the devil—just as Our Lord battled Satan’s triple temptation in the desert. Jesus’ battle was external, for He could not sin; our battle is interior, but with a hope sustained by the knowledge of Christ’s Easter victory over sin and death.
I just recently spoke with my sister who told me about an incident that occurred in her life. She told me about a run in she had with someone regarding fasting, particularly for Lent. My sister, knowing that it was Ash Wednesday, made a comment about fasting from meat on Wednesday and the person (as if offended by the very notion of fasting) said, “You don’t believe in that too, do you?” The person proceeded to question the whole practice, going as far as saying she quit doing that when she “grew a brain.”
Aside from the knee jerk reaction (picturing lunging and tackling) that I personally had upon hearing this story, I realized…what a misconception.
When I hear things like this it is so easy to get upset and offended. It is so easy to write these people off as stupid and ignorant. It is so easy to be lead by feeling, because the faith that we have is precious and worth defending.
So instead of tackling physically, I decided to write a post about Ash Wednesday, fasting, and Lent, in order to “tackle” this with facts.
So, what is Ash Wednesday and why is it so important to our faith?
Ash Wednesday is the call of the faithful to “repent and believe the gospel.” (Mk 1:15) For the next 40 days, the faithful willingly submit to fasting and to self-denial in order to imitate the Lord’s forty day fast in the desert. In this penitential season, we have the opportunity to make an annual spiritual “tune up”—a retreat with our Lord.
The major themes that permeate the Lenten Season are Baptism and Penance. During Lent we are to recall our baptism (the Sacrament which brings us into the life of Christ), and practice penance (internally and individually, and also externally and socially). Through these two things, Lent prepares us and disposes us to celebrate the paschal mystery of our Lord come Easter.
Significantly, the liturgical season of Lent coincides with Spring. Spring calls to mind images of new life, growth, hope for a new change. These things should characterize this time of prayer and penance, and thus should lead to conversion of the heart once again towards Christ. For 40 days, the Church invites us to start afresh. During Lent, we are called to “spring” into action, to do the tasks of the season, and to prepare for the graces that are obtained from Easter.
Why do we wear ashes on our foreheads? Because they are a vivid reminder of our mortal nature—we are bodies fashioned from dust—they are a symbol of this passing world and reminder of our death, a symbol of penance and sorrow for sins, and a reminder of the curse in Genesis. During Lent we are to ask the Lord to protect us in our constant struggle against evil, and help lead us to holiness through our self-denial.
Why do we fast? Because in fasting we are admitting to ourselves that nothing, NOTHING, is as good as God. He is the Summum Bonum—the Highest Good. Everything else should be ordered according to this fact, and during Lent, we are proclaiming this beautiful reality.
This is why it is good to abstain from meat, one of the most favored and hearty foods among all people. This is why during Lent, we should really discern those things which we struggle with—those things we tend to put above God—and give them up out of our love for the Lord.
In my RCIA class we discussed some things that might be a good idea to abstain from for the 40 days of Lent. I thought it might be a good idea to post them, because I always struggle with really pinpointing what it is I want to give up for Lent.
Here are some ideas:
· Warm shower (take a lukewarm shower)
· Your pillow
· Unnecessary Shopping
· Fried food
· Music in the car (use time for prayer instead)
· Nail polish
Also, Lent is not only calls us to fast, but also to commit ourselves to prayer and almsgiving.
Here are some suggestions for enhancing a prayerful life during lent:
· Pray the rosary daily
· Daily mass, or mass more than 1 day a week
· Daily scripture readings
· Lectio Divina
· Weekly stations of the cross
· Spiritual readings/daily meditations
· Going to confession weekly during Lent
· Visiting the Lord at weekly or daily adoration in the perpetual adoration chapel
Some suggestions for almsgiving this Lent:
· Help out at your local soup kitchen
· Donate to a local shelter
· Volunteer your time at your church (singing, lecturing, become a Eucharistic minister)
· Start tithing if you don’t already
· Bring canned goods to the church for those in need
Have no shame in wearing the ashes tomorrow. Lent, though marked by penance, self-denial, and suffering, is truly a happytime. Lent is the season which calls us to seek and develop a closer relationship with God. There is always room to grow. There is always more love to take on.
Commit to the Lord, and whatever you do, you will succeed.