I need Lent! I do! I need this season! In fact, I believe that we all need this season that each year, as we are reminded in the Lenten Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer, God gives us (“Each year you give us this joyful season of Lent”).
I need the self-reflection into which the Season calls us. The pace at which our lives move these days, the demands of our calendars and of all the various areas of our lives can create an environment that is anything but self-reflective! Lent calls me to pause in the midst of all of it and to look inward! To take a good, honest look at my life and at what my priorities have become; to look at my prayer life and to evaluate how committed I am to it; to look at how I live and to access how close – or how far – it is from how the Gospel of Christ calls me to live. This is the kind of self-reflection that Lent calls us to!
To help us in this spiritual endeavor, the Church gives us, I think, three very important guides: The Liturgies of Lent, the Scriptures we hear in those Liturgies, and the three traditional practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
The Liturgies of Lent, in the prayers and in the Scriptures, do in fact give us direction in our self-reflection! In all of that we hear – and even in all that we sing – the words of the Liturgy shape us and form us. If we let them, the words of the Liturgy even have the power to transform us. If this is true, and I very much believe that it is, then there is wisdom in the practice many of us take up for Lent: committing to increase our experience of Liturgical Prayer, for example to attend Mass more often than we normally do. Liturgies other than Mass, that often are scheduled in our parishes in this season (for example, Morning or Evening Prayer, or Communal Penance Services), can continue to form us and guide us in examining our lives and how we live.
This year, in the Sunday Scriptures of this season, we see the scope of God’s wonderful deeds throughout all of history! We hear of Abraham and Moses, David and the Israelites and in these Scriptures we are again presented with all that God has done to claim us as His own, to save us and to redeem us! In light of these transformative stories, we see our own lives and where we continue to need God’s saving presence to claim us once again, to save us and to redeem us.
And finally, the traditional practices of prayer, fasting and alms-giving. Through these practices we are again drawn to the Gospel life, even as we hear them given to us once more in the Gospel of Matthew, next week on Ash Wednesday. Through these practices, we are shaped more and more into the image of Christ that we were baptized to be; and through these practices we can properly prepare to renew that baptism on Holy Saturday night at the great Vigil, or on Easter Sunday morning. This is, after all, the very heart of Lent – to prepare us to renew the baptism in which God first claimed us as His own, and through which we were re-created into an image of His Beloved Son!
Indeed, we all need Lent! May it be a season of grace and of growth in the Christian Life for all of us!