Generally, the Lenten period helps us to reflect on our lives as Christians and do an ‘audit’ to see how well we are doing. Further, it gives us an opportunity to carry our crosses along with Jesus Christ who invites his disciples in Matthew 16:24 to deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow him.
It is said, ‘An unreflected life is unworthy living.’ Lenten season is therefore a time that the Catholic church sets aside to reflect about the sufferings of Christ who gave his life for our sake. This six week period begins on Ash Wednesday and goes on up to Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday and culminates when the Church commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter. As Catholic Christians, we are invited during this time to reflect about Christ’s sufferings and remember our appreciation of the sacrifice Jesus Christ offered for our sake. Scripture says,
“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Is 53:5).
Lent is a time when we are reminded to reflect on the love God our Father had for us to give up his only son to die for our sins and redeem us (John 3:16). After our first parents, Adam and Eve sinned, humanity was separated from God. It was through the death of his son that we were reconciled with him. St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians summarizes this so strikingly when he says,
“At one time you were separated from God. You were his enemies in your minds, and the evil things you did were against God. 22 But now God has made you his friends again. He did this through Christ’s death in the body so that he might bring you into God’s presence as people who are holy, with no wrong, and with nothing of which God can judge you guilty. Undeniably, Jesus’ death on the Cross redeemed human kind from slavery of the evil one, from death and eternal damnation. It is well stated in Isaiah that, “I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Is 54:12).
During Lent, the Church invites us to do more, paying specific attention to three things among others: prayer, fasting and alms-giving.
During Lent, we are invited to intensify our prayers. We need to pray more than we always do. Of course, prayer is the fuel of a Christian and at no time should a Christian rest from praying. During Lent, however, we are called to pray more than ever. This does not mean that we stop praying so much when Lent is over, but, rather, it is hoped that the increase in prayer during this time aids growth in faith such that the new prayer habits become a regular part and parcel of our lives. I personally strongly believe that those who increase their prayer life in Lent remain rooted in the habit and even grow more in their prayer life after it is over.
During Lent, we are also called to deny ourselves through fasting. Fasting does not only mean abstaining from food or just starving oneself. It is something that we do to refrain from doing certain things that are capable of harming our spiritual lives or/and others. There is a very beautiful message that was given by Pope Francis some years ago during the Lenten season.
Pope Francis advises the Christians to do the following during Lent for it to be meaningful:
Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
Fast from worries and have trust in God.
Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
Fast from bitterness and fill your hearts with joy.
Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.
The beautiful time of Lent reminds us to serve Christ in the other Christs; the poor and less privileged in society. This is where we are encouraged to give alms, thus sharing with others what we have. We do not need to have in excess to be able to share but we can share even from the little we have. Jesus says that on Judgment Day his father, the King, will reward those who were charitable to the least of their brothers and sisters, that they will have done it to Jesus Christ himself (Matthew 25:31-46).
“And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
In my African Zambian culture there is a saying which is directly translated as “Food can never be too little to share, but clothes can be.” This emphasizes the fact that we need to share whatever we have no matter how little we may have. We need to learn from our Master who shared even his own life for our salvation.
Tying It Together
Therefore, the penances that we do in the Lenten season and other daily hassles that we face each day, are the crosses we carry along with Christ. Jesus in fact invites his followers in Matthew 11:28–30 to go to him when weary and burdened, and that he will give them rest. Jesus goes on to say,
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Being human, we are inclined to want to have an easy way in life, to have things going on smoothly, things going on the way we want them to. In such times, we are likely to forget that as Christians we ought to follow the footsteps of our Master who carried the cross and invites us to carry ours too. Thus, the Church in all her wisdom sets aside the Lenten season to remind us of our way of salvation which is not smooth and rosy but is rough and full of thorns. However, the path becomes smooth and easy with Christ on our side who helps us to carry our burdens of life. My personal advice is that we need to personalize the message of the cross and always bear in mind that ‘the Lord suffered and died for my salvation and feel indebted by striving to be a faithful Christian.’