The purpose of Lent

Lent is a time to prepare for our walk with Jesus during the Holy Triduum. It is the most sacred, most mysterious, and most intense time in the Church’s calendar. Among other things, it is a time when we are asked to fast and abstain from meat.  So how does only eating fish and vegetables on Fridays help us?

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the three activities which the Church recommends during this season. We are asked to fast just two days out of the 40, that is to eat just one regular meal along with two smaller meals and and nothing between meals. These two days are at the beginning and the end of lent, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. She also asks us to abstain from eating meat on all Fridays during lent. While it may seem to help the seafood and pizza industries, the real purpose is to call our attention to the most fundamental aspect of our life — the food that sustains us. We are asked to pay attention not just to what we eat, but how much and when we eat.

When we stop and ask ourselves, ‘can I eat this?’, it makes us think. It also awakens our hunger for something more. When we start saying ‘no’ to our body’s’ craving what we can’t have, the control the material world has in satisfying us starts to diminish. As we open ourselves up to the spiritual realm, we can go deeper into prayer, like the Stations of the Cross or daily Mass. Seeking to strengthen our relationship with God, prayer takes on a more fervent concentration. Here too we now pause and listen, how is God calling us closer?

On the cross, Jesus gave everything away, even His life for us. With almsgiving, we are asked to imitate Christ and give to those in need, not just from our surplus but also to dig a bit deeper so we feel it. While money is the most literal definition for almsgiving, it can extend to our time and talents as well. Volunteering at a charity or soup kitchen, for example,  teaches us compassion and heightens our awareness of others’ poverty.

As a runner trains for a marathon, we are called to intensify our sacrifices so that we can participate more fully in the Easter celebration. Perhaps our efforts will allow us to experience the love of God in a deeper and more personal way on this side of heaven.

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