The Season of Lent: A time of Repentance
On Wednesday March 1, many Christians around the world celebrated what the Church calls Ash Wednesday, which begins a 40-day season which we call Lent.
Why does Lent last for 40 days? Because this season recounts the 40 days and 40 nights Jesus spent in the desert reflecting on his mission, his relationship with God and confronting the reality of evil: “He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards, he was famished.” (Matthew 4: 2 ).
When Jesus came out of the desert, he was stronger, more focused on what God was calling him to do and his relationship with God was ever more deepened as he prepared himself for the trials we was about to endure - his suffering and death which would ultimately lead to the resurrection.
Lent is a time of returning to God. It is a time to confess how we keep looking for joy, peace and happiness in all the wrong places, without finding what we truly desire. Only God can give us what we want and need. So how do we reconcile ourselves with God?
Lent is often described as a journey, and each person’s journey through Lent is unique, and the journey is unique each year we observe it. Just like for Jesus, God is calling each of us to embark on this wonderful and life-changing journey of selfdiscovery, of conversion. Lent is the Christian’s wilderness or desert experience.
We are called every year during Lent to enter deep within ourselves, in the secret places of our hearts and conscience because it is in the heart that the true work of Lent takes place. And it is in that deepest, most intimate part of ourselves where we confront our demons, our sins- guilt, anxiety, etc.. so that we can be healed and renewed. By doing so, we reclaim our Christian identity.
Ashes are put on our foreheads in the shape of a cross. The use of ashes goes back to Old Testament times when sackcloth and ashes were worn as a sign of penance. They remind us of the reality of death. In order for a true, deep conversion of the heart to take place, we need to let God transform us from the inside, so that we can die of whatever is sinful in us - false attachments, greed, anger, hatred and so on. By doing so, we will be ready for a rebirth, a new beginning at Easter. But we must take the time for our hearts to dive in the ashes and remain there for a while so that they can do their work in us.
The actions of piety - Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving - of which the Gospels speak are the concrete ways we make true conversion happen. However, they must be genuine. Jesus is challenging us to pray, fast and give alms (works of charity), but to do it in a way that honours God, rather than drawing attention and praise to ourselves. Jesus says: “Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them;” (Matthew 6: 1). Then Jesus says in verse 4: “and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” It is not an outward show to enhance our self-image, but about deepening our relationship with God.
So during this Lenten season, let us strive for an interior encounter with God in the whole of our lives, in everything which makes up our life, in order to arrive at the deep conversion in God’s presence. As the Lord says in the book of the prophet Joel: “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing”. (Joel 2: 12-13). St Paul says: “see, now is the time of Salvation!.” (2 Corinthians 6: 2 ). Amen!
Father Lee Lainey