This is one of the most important times of the year for Christians. It’s a time where we strip our altars bare of any decoration. Gone are the flowers that festooned the altar just days ago. This is a time of the year where we turn inward. We turn our eyes to the love and wisdom of Jesus. Even though we spend our entire year thinking about Jesus, Lent is a special time to encounter our Savior. It is a time where we, too, enter into the desert.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us how Jesus journeyed into the desert before he began his ministry. He was just baptized by John the Baptist, and now he wends his way into the sands to prepare himself. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke give us a more in-depth story of how Jesus was tempted by the devil.
Matthew tells us: “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished” (Matthew 4:1-2). Mark puts it in a more concise manner: “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him” (Mark 1:12-13). Luke says it this way: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished” (Luke 4:1-2).
A common theme in the Old and New Testaments is repenting for one’s sins. In the Old Testament specifically, we see instances where people who have sinned or are mourning wear sackcloth and ashes. The Book of Genesis tells us that Jacob “tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for…many days” when he thought that his son Joseph was killed by a wild animal (Genesis 37:34). In the Book of Daniel, we read the words: “Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). Just like the people from the Old Testament, we mourn our sins and the wrong we have done.
Not all Christians celebrate this day but in my faith tradition, we do. Every year, we receive ashes on our foreheads as a penitential act. What we usually proceed to do is wear the ashes on our foreheads for the rest of the day as a form of penitence. It is not something that is meant to be worn in pride but in humility. The priest utters the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” as they make the sign of the cross on our foreheads. It is such a transformational moment. It is eye opening, humbling.
The Season of Lent
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and goes until the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday). Similar to Jesus’s desert journey, Lent lasts forty days. However, it is important to notice that Lent does not count Sundays, the days on which we worship the Lord.
It is a time where Christians commonly make some sort of sacrifice. It could involve giving something up such as a bad habit or vice. We can curb our tongues when we want to gossip about our neighbors. Or we can make a promise to stop complaining. It could involve taking something positive on. We can read the Bible more. We can spend more daily time in prayer with the Lord. We can commit to moments of silence.
I am actually doing two things during Lent. I will be giving up something and taking on something. What I will be giving up is eating out and buying coffee drinks. As for what I will be taking on, I will be reading the Minor Prophets for this Lent.
This Lent, our journey mirrors that of Jesus. We make our way through the desert, following in his footsteps. We pick up our crosses and carry them, so-to-speak. We tread on rock and sand, conscious of the fact that we can be tempted at any moment. This is a time of spiritual endurance and bravery.
We turn inwards to make ourselves better and to cultivate more love in our hearts. We spend more time focusing on the Lord and how we can be loving followers of Jesus.
There are many who see Lent as a time of new beginnings. If you are unsure what to do, let yourself begin again. Ask for forgiveness and show gratitude to the Lord for his love and mercy.
If you cannot figure out what to give up, think of the negative habits you have. Do you have a problem with complaining? Do you get road rage from time to time? Is there unforgiveness in your heart? If there is, have you been holding onto it for a long time? If so, let that stuff go! Is there someone you don’t like or just cannot stand? Pray for them! Bless that person.
Maybe there is nothing you need to give up. What could you take on instead? There are so many wonderful things you can do! Can you donate your time or money? Can you donate food to the local food bank? Let’s face it! We often have pantries filled with cans that have been sitting there for months. Can you do a random act of kindness? I once knew a person who would try to do one random act of kindness a week. It could be something small. You could open the door for another person. You could smile at others, especially those who look miserable. You could go the extra mile to be kind. Speak genuine, kind words to others.
I leave you with these wise words from Psalm 51:
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:6-7)