by Nikolai R. F. X. Brelinsky
This year, the liturgical calendar will baffle many Catholics as the feast of St. Valentine and Ash Wednesday both occupy the same day, Feb 14. This coincidence offers a more than understandable reason for people to ask themselves, “Why exactly am I not supposed to have chocolate today?”. Of course, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season and is one of the few days during which the faithful are required to fast. In light of this, I would like to highlight what I think the season is about and offer a “recipe” for a fruitful Lent.
At its roots, Lent is a time for us to prepare for Holy Week. We set aside forty days for this preparation in which we look into ourselves and ask what we need to change or improve. This period is a reflection of the forty days Our Lord Himself spent in the desert (Matthew 4; Luke 4). As Jesus demonstrated to us, this period involves a real combat against temptation.
And so, my first ingredient of Lent, so to speak, is review. We ought to dedicate time during this Lenten season to reviewing ourselves and what temptations we may struggle with regularly. We may not have a desert to retreat to, but it is important that we spend time in silence and solitude. By reflecting on our inner selves, we can either discover or acknowledge our temptations.
My second ingredient is rejection. Does that seem shocking? Perhaps the idea of rejection has a singularly negative connotation today. However, I think to improve ourselves, we must learn to reject the things which hold us back or keep us down. We have to rid ourselves of whatever might be causing us to sin or simply distracting us from virtue.
We can go about rejecting what is bad through practicing sacrifice. Many of us are familiar with the idea of giving something up for Lent. Oftentimes we choose to give up chocolate, potato chips, television, or something of that sort. These things are all for our pleasure. By giving them up, we deny thoughtlessly indulging ourselves. This is meant to help us in times when we are seriously tempted, so that we might have the strength and willpower to reject things which are truly bad for us.
In this way, I think it is good for us to choose something to give up for Lent. Even though it might be something which is not bad or harmful to us, by offering it up, we make ourselves stronger. Of course, we have to make a real and intentional effort here, without becoming begrudging or halfhearted.
My third ingredient for this Lent is renewal.
It is not enough for us to find our weaknesses and reject our temptations. We also need a goal or a purpose to build us up. I think that we can find this demonstrated in the Gospels again in the desert episode. Jesus shows that He is rooted in the Scriptures as He refutes the devil’s temptations. His time in the desert involves reflection on the word of God and prayer.
In this way, our time in Lent should be anchored in prayer. As we prepare for the celebration of Easter, we should be immersed in scripture and in prayer. This way, we have a foundation of grace to rely on as we remove ourselves from the pleasures of sin.
My final ingredient for a fruitful Lent is the act of returning. By this, I mean the things done to give back to others from what we have received. Typically, the Church recommends almsgiving, but I would include any kind of charitable work. Anything which involves the giving of oneself for the aid of others will not only benefit the recipient, but the giver as well.
A Fruitful Lent
Altogether, I believe we will have a fruitful Lenten season when we make the intentional efforts to review ourselves, reject temptations, renew ourselves in prayer, and return what we have to those around us. Of course, our success does not depend solely on our own abilities. We must receive and rely upon the grace of God. It is His blessing which will help us to reform our lives and grow in love of Him. Let us pray, then, for a grace filled and fruitful Lent.
(In case you were looking for an actual lentil soup recipe, here you are)