Happy Ash Wednesday! Today marks the first day of Lent, 2012, a season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that will last until Easter Sunday, April 8. This post is the first in a Lenten series that will invite my readers to explore various aspects of their daily lives with an eye towards improving themselves spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
So often we think of Lent as simply that time before Easter where we give up the things that we enjoy, like candy, television, coffee, or even Facebook. What is this season really about, though? Certainly sacrifice is a significant part of good Lenten discipline, but if we stop there, I think we miss out of the much deeper, richer treasures that Lent has to offer us.
Sometimes we might find that there are certain luxuries to which we have formed attachments and that these attachments are impeding our relationship with God or are preventing us from living up to our full potential. I know this has been the case for me – more than once I have found myself wasting away time watching Netflix, time that could be better spent on a myriad of more productive endeavors. If you find yourself in a similar situation, giving up Netflix for Lent might be a great idea… as long as you don’t just replace Netflix with Hulu, that is. But what about other things that aren’t necessarily preventing you from living up to your full potential? I have several good friends that love chocolate, but I wouldn’t say that any of them are controlled by it or that it is in the way of their success, yet there may still be great value in giving it up for Lent. Why? It all comes down to intent.
As one of the priests at St. Dominic’s, Fr. Stephen Maria, said in his homily today, “Why do people seem to be repulsed by the idea of giving something up during Lent? We are never repulsed when we see sacrifices being made for children, parents, friends, and the people we love. So we should make our sacrifices during Lent out of love for God.” I found this to be a particularly powerful idea. I’ve heard people say, “you can’t give up something you really love – you’ll just be miserable.” Perhaps this is true if you’re giving it up because you feel there is some social obligation. After all, how many times do you hear the question, “what are giving up for Lent?” But if we see our sacrifice as something we do out of love, it takes on a whole new meaning – we are uniting ourselves more closely to the sufferings of Christ, yes, but we are also preparing ourselves to share more fully in the new life of His resurrection.
But this series is not going to be solely about sacrifice. At its core, Lent is a time for spiritual renewal, a true springtime for all people. While there are many ways that we can approach Lent, over the next 40 days, I want to focus primarily on two very important questions:
- What is getting in the way of my relationship with God?
- What is preventing me from being the person I am called to be?
In addressing these questions throughout the series, we will definitely see sacrifice come up several times, but more so we will see that Lent really offers us a chance to become new people, to transform our lives in a meaningful way. I hope to show one way that this is possible through an exploration of eight key areas of our lives that we can develop during Lent.
In the coming weeks, I will explore each of these eight areas separately, beginning with a reflection on the role I see each playing in my own life, and then exploring ways in which we can work to improve these areas during the Lenten season. At the end of the series, I will look at four overarching themes:
Taken together, these four overarching themes contain the eight key areas and make up the picture of a complete human being. And since Lent really is a time to transform ourselves, what better way to end the series than to wrap it all up with a look at the whole person?
I am excited to embark on this Lenten journey with you, and I hope that these topics that I will be exploring can help your own experience of Lent be much more positive.
NB: I would be remiss if I failed to thank M.M. for inspiring me to write this series of articles. Over breakfast this past Sunday we got to talking about Lenten disciplines, and he suggested that there was a lot of potential in these eight areas and four overarching themes. I decided to write this series, then, as part of my Lenten discipline so that I could not only explore these topics myself, but also maybe help others on their own journey. For what it’s worth, I made a suggestion of my own to M.M. for something I thought he might consider incorporating as part of his Lenten discipline and I really hope he decides to take on the challenge.