A real smart kid said to his Dad: “I’m giving up school work for Lent.” The Dad responded to his smart son: “Okay, then I will give up giving you an allowance.” The smart kid: “Never mind.”
The happy season of Lent is upon us again!
And, Christians are called to review their lives and make extra sacrifices in order to gain greater self-control to live the discipline of Christian life.
Traditionally, we “give up” things during Lent. We should always, however, keep in mind “why” we do this.
Lent is the major penitential season of preparation for Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days. Now, the number “40″ is a fairly significant one in the Bible.
There are at least ten instances in the Old Testament and New Testament where 40 occurs, either in years or days, e.g. it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, Moses was on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights, the Israelites wandered 40 years, Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days and was seen on the earth for 40 days after His crucifixion.
A 40-something time period, whether days, months, or years is ALWAYS a period of testing, trial, probation, or chastisement and ends with a period of restoration, revival or renewal. And, such is Lent—a time of “testing and trial” leading to a time of restoration, revival, and renewal.
The “testing and trial” deals with the penance we are to practice during—doing something that will foster our total well-being, especially our spiritual well-being. Our Church tells us that fast and abstinence is to be part of our penance. Here are the specifics:
- Every person 14 years of age or older must abstain from meat (and items made with meat) on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent.
- Every person between the age of 18 and 60 must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Fasting means partaking of only one full meal. Some food (not equaling another full meal) is permitted for the other two eating times.
But, getting back to the “why” we do this: Fasting is a means of developing self-control. It is often an aid to prayer, as the pangs of hunger remind us of our hunger for God. Fasting also puts us in solidarity with those whose must continually fast because of their poverty.
Abstinence, or giving up something we like, is an act of self-discipline. We purposefully sacrifice something we like to grow in self-control and move us towards greater charity.
Lent is about conversion, that is, turning our lives more completely over to Christ and his way of life. That always involves giving up sin in some form. Our giving up of something we like is to give us the proper self-discipline to give up some sinful tendency in our life.
The goal of Lent is not just to give up something for the duration of Lent, then return to it at Easter. The point of Lent is to root sin out of our lives forever. Conversion means leaving behind an old way of living and to fully embrace our new life in Christ.
Let’s have a happy Lent.