The Lenten period is here again, and many people are still having a hard time understanding what the season entails. Some people may have some ideas, but they may not yet understand the season’s entire essence. This reflection would give us a more profound comprehension of the Lenten season and how we can make the best from it.
The Lenten season is a preparatory period of forty days that leads to the celebration of Easter. Someone may wonder why we talk about forty days of Lent when we have forty-six days from Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent, to Easter Sunday. The six extra days are Sundays that do not count in Lenten observance, but we need to know why.
Sundays are feast days that celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The scriptures tell us that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the First Day of the week, and the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord (John 20:19-20). It means that Sundays are excluded from the Lenten season because we are not expected to fast as in other days; every Sunday is a “mini-Easter!”
What are the Lenten Obligations?
Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. The significant events that come with Ash Wednesday are the reception of Ash, fasting, and abstinence, indicating penitence and repentance. There are biblical references that demonstrate how people use Ash and fasting to disclose their deep sorrow, especially for sin. We could recall that when Jonah announced that God would destroy Nineveh in forty days, the people repented by covering themselves with sackcloth and Ash and taking the time to fast (Jonah 3:4-6).
From the foreground of the As Wednesday, we have the three pillars of Lent, namely prayers (which directs us to God), fasting (which helps sanctify us), and almsgiving (which leads us to other people). While we may be familiar with these, most people still lack the profound knowledge of praying, fasting, and giving alms.
Prayer is what most people do but how to pray effectively is not clear to many. We could recall that the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ had the same challenge and asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1-13). How to pray is not just about the words we use but also the right disposition for prayer.
John’s Gospel (4:23-24) tells us that God is spirit, and those who worship Him should do so in spirit and truth. St. Paul writing to the Ephesians (6:18), encouraged them to pray always in the spirit. We deduce from all these that the best way to pray is in spirit.
We pray in the spirit by focusing on God, not on ourselves, other people, or our problems. The greatest obstacle to our communication with God in the spirit is distraction, which happens in our minds. The Lenten period is a time to learn how to discipline our minds to be focused during the moments of prayer.
Fasting involves wilful or intentional refrainment from food for various reasons, which could be material like weight loss or spiritual. Of course, we are concerned with spiritual fasting, which also involves denying the body the need for food to elevate the spirit. Fasting is closely related to abstinence, which is a voluntary act of giving up something pleasurable.
Fasting is not the postponement of mealtime like eating at noon instead of 7.am. It involves giving up the mealtime entirely and using the period between the start time and end time to pray and engage in other spiritual activities.
Regrettably, most people spend their fasting time doing other things apart from praying. Some people spend the fasting time talking about unspiritual things, getting engaged with undeserving content in social media or television, and other things anyone can imagine.
Such people think that what matters is not eating food. The truth is that what you do during your fasting is as important as the fasting itself. When you fast, try as much as possible to also abstain from unspiritual activities. Read your bible or other spiritual texts, listen, or watch contents that could feed your spirit, and not forget to make it a prayer time.
Fasting and abstinence should be a private affair that lies between oneself, and God not a public show like our Lord Jesus Christ would denounce in the Gospel of Matthew (6:16). Do not make a show of your fasting, just like when you are praying.
Almsgiving involves reaching out to other people with what we have: material, moral or spiritual. Giving is one of the major acts that reflect God in our lives, just like forgiving.
God loves cheerful givers because God is a giver and whatever we have comes from Him. The Book of the prophet Haggai (2:8) says that silver and gold belong to God. St. Paul would add in the Letter to the Romans (11:36) that everything belongs to God. One thing about givers is that they do not lack because God promised to provide seed to the sower or giver (2 Cor.9:10).
Giving helps us to discover God in the lives of other people. Remember our Lord says that whatever you do to the least of my brethren you do to me (Matthew 25:40). Furthermore, like prayer and fasting, our giving should not be a publicity stunt; otherwise, we become only philanthropists. Our Lord Jesus Christ recommended that when giving our right hand should not know what our left hand is doing; our Lord who sees what is done in secret would reward us (Matthew 6:1-4).
Develop the Lenten Mindset!
The Lenten Season would succeed or fail depending on your mindset. Your prayers, fasting, and almsgiving could become mere religious observances without the corresponding spiritual relevance if your mind is not set properly.
The best way to be mindfully set for the Lenten season is to go through the route of penitence. Yes, we need to have a change of heart and mind by asking God to forgive our sins. God is Holy, and we should approach him with intentional holiness. The Book of Psalm (66:18) says: “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”
Another way of developing the Lenten mindset is to be conscious of the distractions that happens in the mind. The Book of Sirach (2:1) says if you aspire to serve the Lord prepare yourself for an ordeal.Remember that God will not leave you to do it alone; God’s grace would be sufficient for you (1 Cor. 12:9).
Have a blessed and fruitful Lenten Season!