Saturday, February 25, 2017

Why Lent?


We are about to enter into the holiest time of the Catholic year:  Lent.  But what makes it such a holy time?

Most people view Lent as basically a time to give up something that you really like, such as chocolate or alcohol.  The Internet abounds with ideas for Lent, some pretty silly, and other more serious ideas. There is even a website entitled, whattogiveupforlent.com.  It has some interesting ideas on what to give up for Lent, e.g.:

  • Television (or certain shows)
  • The radio (all the time, certain time of day, etc.)
  • Favorite foods (pizza, ice cream, etc.)
  • Eating out
  • Alcohol
  • Soft drinks/caffeine/coffee
  • Smoking
  • Clutter
  • Debt (using credit cards)
  • Certain books/magazines (read ones that will help you grow spiritually)
  • Social Media sites (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.)
  • Computer use/blogging

In addition to ideas about what to give up, it has a section entitled, "Things to add during Lent" such as:

  • Going to Mass more than once a week
  • Praying the Rosary
  • Attending weekly Stations of the Cross
  • Making time for personal prayer with the Lord
  • Praying with your family
  • Going to Confession
  • Quiet time
  • Commitment to exercise
  • Making time for your spouse/children
These are all good ideas, but to be honest, they basically sound like New Year's Resolutions.  What is the purpose of doing all this?  Are we just trying to be better people, live better lives?

What is the real meaning and purpose of Lent?

The website cited herein gives us this meaning for Lent:
In choosing to follow Christ, we recognize that His ultimate gift to humanity is death on the cross. He died for our sins, conquered death, and rose to new life. The Lord is calling us to do the same. We’re given a special chance to unite ourselves to Christ’s cross through this Lenten season. Let us do something “nice” in return for the Lord’s sacrifice for us. We make daily sacrifices in giving things up for Lent so that we can offer some small part of ourselves to Christ. 

Our Christian journey on this Earth is uniquely tied to the journey that Jesus made. During Lent, our small sacrifices remind us of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice. Don’t let this Lenten season pass you by without recognizing the gift of salvation, the hope of the resurrection, and the joy of uniting our sufferings to Christ’s. 

Lent is our chance to show our devotion. Don’t let the season pass you by. Give it up because He gave it all.
Hmmm. So we are told here that we should "do something 'nice' in return for the Lord’s sacrifice for us." This website tells us that we should "offer some small part of ourselves to Christ." That sounds a little shallow to me. But then this website does give us bigger ideas as well: "recognizing the gift of salvation, the hope of the resurrection, and the joy of uniting our sufferings to Christ’s." Now that is sounding much better. And the website does get closer to what I believe is the real meaning and goal of Lent:
Typically, people choose to give up certain foods or drinks as a fast for Lent, but don’t forget that the whole point of Lent is to give up something in your life that has taken your attention away from the Christian journey, away from Christ and your devotion to Him. Sure, it’s important to give up the things in life that would be somewhat of a sacrifice to not have for a month and a half. It might be more important, however, to increase other activities that reflect upon and improve your faith. Remember: it’s not just about what to give up for Lent, it’s about what you’re doing for Lent. Sometimes an action can have a deeper impact that an avoidance. Take some time when you’re thinking about what to give up for Lent, and ask yourself what might be taking over your life. Make a decision to let it go. Lent is a unique time to learn and practice self-control and to identify with Christ’s suffering. Don’t just give up something for Lent because that’s what you’ve always done. Give up something for Lent because you want to grow closer to the Lord.
That last sentence comes very close to the meaning of Lent for me: "Give up something for Lent because you want to grow closer to the Lord." But it doesn't quite state what I believe is the true reason for Lent.  Lent is about something much more radical than "just" growing closer to the Lord.

Lent is an intense time of learning the true meaning of Christian life, which is dying to self and living for Christ. During Lent, we should follow Christ into the desert with the idea of leaving our old sinful selves behind and coming out a new creation in the Lord. II Corinthians 5:17 says it best: "So, if any man belongs to Christ, he is a new person. His old life has gone. You see, he has begun a new life."

Lent is a time when we should remove ourselves from the world as much as possible, blocking out all extraneous noise and distractions.  It is a time when we follow Christ into the spiritual desert, putting ourselves into God's Hands because we realize that we are helpless by ourselves to overcome the sin which dwells within us.  Left to our own prerogative and efforts, we will always choose the physical over the spiritual if for no other reason than the physical comforts satisfy our physical senses.

But the problem with the physical is that it blocks out the spiritual.  When we satiate the physical senses, we lose sight of the spiritual goals.  We only have so many hours in a day, and if we use those hours to pursue the physical, which is passing away before our eyes, we will have no time or desire for spiritual pursuits.  That is why Christ said it is so difficult for a "rich" man to get into the Kingdom of Heaven.  And when we think "rich", we shouldn't think this refers only to those who are materially wealthy.  "Rich", as used by Jesus Christ, means anyone who views the material world as their goal in life.

Lent is spiritual boot camp. In the military, boot camp is all about making ruthless warriors out of peace-loving civilians. It is about changing the mindset of those in boot camp, as described by Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall, in his book Men Against Fire:
” The army … must reckon with the fact that he comes from a civilization in which aggression, connected with the taking of life, is prohibited and unacceptable. The teaching and ideals of that civilization are against killing, against taking advantage. The fear of aggression has been expressed to him so strongly and absorbed by him so deeply and pervadingly–practically with his mother’s milk–that it is part of the normal man’s emotional make up. This is his greatest handicap when he enters combat. It stays his trigger-finger even though he is hardly conscious that it is a restraint upon him.”
A Christian has a much more difficult path than those entering military boot camp.  We have to change from worldly people to Christ-centered, spirit-filled people  That is our general goal throughout the entire year, but Lent is a time when we ratchet up our attempts to detach from the physical and become more Christ-like.  Lent is spiritual boot camp.  We push ourselves extra hard in our Lenten boot camp, just as a soldier does in military boot camp, who goes through almost unbearable training and suffering that will basically transform him into a new person, as described in an article from Quora.com:
Boot camp is designed to reprogram civilians and those closer to childhood than to being adults into warriors. They are expected to be those that commit violence in the name of others.This is a very hard thing to do. Boot camp places within them a sense that they are expected to do important things, far more important things than could be expected from other 18 year olds. All this happens during one of the most intensely stressful periods of a young person’s life, where they are isolated from contact from family and friends and can’t lean on their comfort for support. Here they must make the transition from a person of no real value to society, to one of great martial prowess and symbolic meaning, as well as a very real threat to those who would endanger their nation.
Those in military boot camp are basically learning to be killing machines, destroying everything and everyone who is an enemy to their country.  However, we as Christians have to learn to value and defend life so completely that we will not even strike out against our enemies.  Our goal, contrary to the military, is not to destroy those who hate us but to bring them to the life-saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The goal of those in military boot camp is to learn how to survive in life-threatening situations  As Christians, our goal is to become so completely united to Jesus Christ and His Sacrifice that we are willing to sacrifice our own lives for the sake of the Gospel.  We learn the seemingly contradictory message of Jesus Christ that he who seeks to save his life will lose, and he who loses his life for Our Lord will save it.

When it comes to making a decision as to your Lenten practices, think about where you want to be spiritually, and what is standing in your way.  The ultimate goal for all Christians is to become a new creation in Jesus Christ.  Think about the ways in which you are stopping yourself from becoming a new creation.  In what way are you still hanging onto the old man?  Giving up physical comforts can be a very useful tool in becoming more spiritual.

But also think about such things as giving into anger, lust, envy.  I personally am going to try to give up complaining this Lent.  I want to focus on being a much more positive person, building people up, not tearing them down.  I live in New York City, and it is very easy to complain when you live among 8 million people.  But complaining doesn't do anyone any good, and it certainly doesn't help me love others.

Lent is a time to concentrate on the spiritual and leave the physical behind as much as possible.  Lent is spiritual Boot Camp.  Our goal should be to leave Lenten Boot Camp on Easter Sunday with less of ourselves and more of Jesus Christ.  It will be hard and we will want to quit more than once along the way.  But remember, you are never alone.  Give those thoughts and feelings to Our Blessed Mother, who denied herself completely for her Son and Savior, standing by the Cross and being spiritually crucified while He was physically crucified.  She knows what you are suffering because she suffered far more intensely than any of us can ever know.

As you walk through Lent, remember, no pain, no gain.  God bless you on your spiritual journey.


8 comments:

  1. Should Catholics boycott the ABC miniseries "When We Rise"?

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    Replies
    1. Homosexuals have been the victims of great persecution and bigotry in this country and throughout the world. Of course their lifestyle involves a great sin, but they are still human beings deserving of respect just as much as anyone else. They are not criminals just by the fact that they are gay, We have all known gay people, and I can only say from my own experience that they are good people in the same sense most people are.

      I have not seen this miniseries and I am sure it contains a good amount of gay propaganda, But it might be good to watch just to understand how much homosexuals have suffered in the past. We must remember that most do not choose this lifestyle, and they deserve our comoassion, not our hatred.

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    2. Believe it or not, "When We Rise" hasn't been doing so well in the ratings.

      https://heatst.com/entertainment/rise-and-fall-ratings-plummet-for-abcs-ambitious-gay-rights-drama-when-we-rise/

      Delete
  2. Maybe a good idea for Lent would be to start defending the Catholic priesthood

    ReplyDelete
  3. Catholic in Brooklyn, do you know of an appropriate Catholic message board where it's considered OK to bring up Michael Voris?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know that Catholic Answers will kick you off if you try to bring him up. I would imagine any traditional Catholic forum would love discussing him. He seems to be among their favorites. I never go to any of them, so I can't give you any leads there.

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    2. Well, Catholic in Brooklyn, I can't say that TPTB at Catholic Answers Forums will ban a member for bringing up Michael Voris JUST ONCE. However, threads that bring up Voris do have a tendency to be locked or deleted altogether. If a CAF member were to bring up Voris over and over again...

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    3. Actually just starting a thread on Michael Voris on CAFwill get you banned.

      http://www.sanctepater.com/2010/08/catholic-answers-bans-new-threads-about.html

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