I find it very interesting that Lent is liturgically placed near the beginning of spring. Of course, the origins of the word “lent” mean spring. When one thinks of spring, immediately new birth, the emergence of growth and freshness comes to mind. There is another activity that is performed during spring and that is “spring cleaning.” This is an opportunity to cast out the old and unusable, to spruce up the necessary and generally to polish the tarnished due to the wear and tear of the long winter season.
Liturgically, Lent is a time of penance. It is a time of preparation for the great event of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, I would like to suggest to you that it is also a time of “spring cleaning.”
This may sound strange, but I like Lent. It forces me to break the routine. It demands that I evaluate my life in the light of the Gospel. It causes me to do a bit of spiritual spring-cleaning. The older I get, the more I realize the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Perhaps it is because I have less time to get my life in order but Reconciliation is a pathway to spiritual responsibility and growth. We need to confess during Lent.
We are appalled at the actions taken by our young. The recent shootings by those malformed individuals are tragic and demonstrate the lack of personal constraints. Faith offers a sense of responsibility for our actions in this world with an understanding that we will be held accountable in the next. I fully expect to be judged on my actions in this life and it is important to mend my offenses to God and my neighbors.
Unfortunately, we have been on a path of secularism, which rejects dependency on God, and the inclusion of religion in any facet of society. This is all done in the name of progress and societal neutrality. But, there is nothing neutral or progressive about the rejection of God. In fact, I would argue that we have become a much more selfish and regressive society and therefore more dangerous than our ancestors to our brothers and sisters.
How do we regain our sense of responsibility? For some, it may seem as a hopeless situation, but when one is a believer, we know that the answer lies in a commitment to God and the practice of one’s religion. There is a wonderful commercial about a financial company whose clients are severing their relationship because they no longer feel connected to the operation. The president calls a meeting with his staff and announces a return to the attitude and service which had made them strong, and he will be the first to call on their oldest customer. We change our world one committed Catholic at a time, and the transformation begins in the confessional. No matter what, I trust in God and follow His Son in the Church.
Lent disturbs our routine and challenges us in a disciplined manner to deepen our spiritual life. But, it takes a commitment on our part to integrate the tasks of Lent into our daily lives: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. They may seem like simple tasks but they develop in us a means of strengthening our spiritual identity.
Before Jesus approached any significant action, he prayed. One of the great requests by the disciples was, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Prayer assists us in listening to what God wants from us rather than what we want from God. I constantly am reminded of the power of prayer as I encounter individuals with tremendous problems, who confide in me that it is prayer that sees them through the most difficult moments. We can help one another through our prayers.
There are many spiritual gurus who are willing to direct our prayer life. It is interesting to note that we wouldn’t hesitate to seek a professional trainer to get our bodies in shape; why wouldn’t we take advantage of the spiritual expertise of priests, deacons, religious or lay ministers? Imagine having the assistance of someone who cares about your relationship with God and adds a voice of support or challenge to the way we incorporate our prayer into our daily living.
Fasting and abstinence are ways to include our physical beings into our journey. We relegate our faith to the cerebral, but in reality, we are mind, body and soul. When we deny ourselves food that we normally enjoy and do so intentionally, we strengthen our will. “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Recently, a person asked me about fasting and abstinence. They stated that these observances are man-made laws by the Church; why do we as Catholics have to obey them? If one sees the Church as man-made, then what is missing in their understanding of the Church is of divine origin. This is a Church which leads the faithful to salvation, a vehicle of grace. This Church is the living sacrament established by Christ. “If Christ is the Sacrament of God, the Church is for humanity the Sacrament of Christ; she represents Him, in the full and ancient meaning of the term; she really makes Him present.” (Lumen Gentium No. 8) I doubt whether this individual would hesitate to question a command by Christ. I know that they would fulfill it to the best of their ability. It is the Church calling us to fulfill our quest toward holiness through abstinence and fasting. And, really, is it that burdensome?
Making our commitment to Christ public is achieved through our almsgiving. Charitable giving should be a common practice in our daily lives. We are blessed individuals. Our Catholic understanding is that all that we possess belongs to God. In Lent, we are asked to be generous, as God is generous to us. His Son gave His life for us. He offers us forgiveness for our transgressions. He gives us a new commandment to Love One Another. Almsgiving during the Lenten period is joined to our penitential spirit. Whatever we are called to do, we do in the name of the Lord. It should not only be monetary but should make a demand on our personal time. Since we are doing spring cleaning, it is appropriate to collect clothes (just take a peek in your closets) or food articles (survey your pantries) and present your findings for distribution to church or community pantries that daily serve the poor. Almsgiving challenges us to respond to the needs and see Christ in our brothers and sisters. Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me.
This spiritual spring-cleaning we do for Lent gives us a closer relationship with God and prepares us to receive and understand the sacrificial love of Jesus.