My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As we have begun the season of Lent several weeks ago, I cannot help but comment on what Lent can mean for us. The word Lent comes from an old English word that means spring; therefore, it is not unreasonable to describe Lent as the springtime of the soul, a time of new birth in preparation for the great feast of the Resurrection.
St. Augustine once prayed in these words: “Lord, to cut myself off from You means to die. To return to You means to rise again. To remain with You means to live, to truly live.”
This prayer of Augustine truly can be an outline for a Lenten program. If we separate ourselves from the Lord, we truly die. That separation happens when we sin, when we neglect our spiritual life or when, for so many reasons, God does not become the center of our lives. But, to return, and Lent is a season of return, means to rise again, to begin again, to take a new opportunity to deepen our relationship with the Lord. Truly, to remain in the Lord means to really live, and that is the goal of our Lenten journey, to rise and to remain in the Lord.
Too often we have seen Lent as a personal, and isolated, journey. However, our Lenten pilgrimage is something we make in community. It is with the whole Church that we journey towards Easter, and although our individual efforts are important, what we do as a community of faith is even more important, because through that we sustain our individual efforts.
Just take, for example, our attitude toward fasting during Lent. Many remember the Lents of the past where there was so much emphasis on fasting, giving something up, and repentance. However, we never really did it alone. If there were meatless meals, it was something that as a family we planned and reminded each other that at this meal there would be no meat.
Having changed our focus on Lent to individuals picking their penance, their fasting, their works of mercy, we may have lost that communal support which was so significant in the past. Therefore, I would suggest that our Lenten programs be undertaken in family units. Have a discussion in your families, with your spouse, with your children, as to what Lenten program your family would choose. How will it be that you sacrifice, to whom will you give alms, how will you fast and abstain together? Even asking the questions will bring your family closer together and help you realize the sacred season that we have begun. It is never too late to begin again our Lenten journey together.
Our particular attitudes toward fasting are truly interesting, especially when compared to this religious practice common to so many of the world’s great religions. Our Jewish brothers and sisters have the day of Yom Kippur as a day of fasting and repentance; for our Muslim brothers and sisters, the month of Ramadan gives that opportunity as it emphasizes the communal nature of their penitential practice because families, and whole nations, fast from sunrise to sunset. No one, not even non-Muslims in Muslim countries, would break that fast since it represents a communal effort of finding God.
For we Christians this is certainly at the heart of why we observe Lent. It is the movement out of ourselves, with others, in search of God on this pilgrimage we call Lent. This springtime of the soul truly gives us many opportunities to deepen our relationship with one another and with the Lord Himself.
Lent is a time of renewal to be taken seriously. It certainly is a time when we put out into the deep, not alone, but in the company of others, so that we can find the deeper meaning of our human existence, declaring our dependence on God and our sorrow for not putting God at the center of our lives.
Make this Lent truly a time of renewal and rising to new life. Remember the great opportunity for the sacrament of penance on Reconciliation Monday, April 10, in our Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens. Visit www.dioceseofbrooklyn.org to find a church near you, open from 3 to 9 p.m. for walk-in confessions. Also you can go to www.meetmeinchurch.org to find a church near you.