This past Wednesday we began the Season of Lent. There is evidence that Christians have been observing a Season of Lent going back as early as the Fifth Century. However, even before then, as early as the Second Century, we have writings of the early Christian community practicing fasting, self-denial, and penitence in preparation for the celebrations of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Lent is 40 days long, a reflection of the 40 days that our Lord spent in the wilderness of Judea. When we think of “wilderness” our thoughts as mid-westerners naturally turn to times when we’ve been outside in the woods; trees, streams, rolling hills, and prairies are all a part of what we might call wilderness. In Israel and its surroundings, however, wilderness is something altogether different – think of a dry, parched landscape with little or no water or trees for shade. Imagine days spent in hot sunlight and cold nights and you’re getting closer. Although there is much less of it than there once was, the Judean wilderness hasn’t changed a whole lot. I’ve included a picture with this post.
So as Lent begins, the Church invites all of us to practice in a very concrete way three disciplines:
1. We are asked to pray – communally as well as individually, prayer is what sustains, defines and guides us in our relationship with Jesus. It takes practice, lots of it. Jesus is always ready and waiting to be with us – and he is a perfect gentleman – he will politely and patiently wait until he is invited. Take some extra prayer time – in addressing God, you are praying – you can’t pray wrong! You might consider spending extra time with God’s Word.
2. We are asked to give alms – this means we are called in a special way to be mindful of the poor and of those in need, and to give of ourselves and our resources to help them. This is as much about charity as it is about justice.
3. We are asked to fast- to sacrifice. We do this for a variety of reasons – but one of the main ones is to get in touch with our own emptiness. That empty place inside each of is, as a well-known expression tells us, ” a God-shaped hole”. Sometimes by fasting, giving up something dear to us, or making a sacrifice of some sort we are brought more closely to that simple truth.
If you have started these practices and are finding them tough or if you haven’t begun yet and have been meaning to… now is a great time. You can’t flunk Lent – but you can start entering into it in a meaningful way right now.