This upcoming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which obviously means that Lent approaches. As a reminder, there will be Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Mary at 9am and at Resurrection at 7pm. This is often a day when people come to Mass in droves—which is a good thing!!—but it is not a holy day of obligation.
What is Lent all about? As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in a homily, the number forty (40) in Scripture is symbolic of a time of preparation. After God liberated the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, they wandered in the desert before entering the Promised Land. They had to be prepared to live in their new home. In a certain sense, God didn't necessarily want to get Israel out of Egypt as much as He wanted to get Egypt out of Israel—more about this at a later date. Also looking at the number forty, Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days and nights before being tempted by the devil and before beginning His public ministry.
With this in mind, it's plain to see that Lent is a time of preparation: a time of preparation for Easter, but more importantly, a time of preparation to live more deeply in conformity to Christ. Jesus says in the Gospel of St. Matthew, “When you pray...when you fast...when you give alms.” Notice that Jesus doesn't say, “If you pray...if you fast...if you give alms.” He makes it clear that a part of discipleship and of the Christian life is to pray, fast, and give alms; these practices are part and parcel of life in Christ.
As you are probably thinking about what to do for Lent, now is the time to think about the reasons for your penitential practices. When I taught high schoolers, I asked the students what they were doing for Lent. One of the students gave more of a dietary regimen that a plan for Lent: giving up gluten, high fructose corn syrup, refined flour, processed foods, etc.! While it may be a pleasant benefit of fasting, our reason for fasting shouldn't be simply to lose weight. When looking at prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in Lent, it may be good to look for practices that can still be continued, maybe in a less intensive manner, even after Lent is over and we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. These penitential practices are meant to help us say no to things that are legitimately good in order to have greater freedom to say yes to our Lord; this time is meant to help us further conform our lives to Jesus Christ.
There are plenty of resources that provide daily reflections during Lent. Sign up to receive daily reflections from Bishop Barron at lentreflections.com or from Dynamic Catholic at dynamiccatholic.com/best-lent-ever. The Little Black Books are also available at the parishes filled with daily reflections.
I knew a priest who has passed away, but he would leave his parishioners with these words on Ash Wednesday: “Have an excruciating Lent!” Conforming our lives to Christ and repenting for our sins is, at times, painful, but for now, I'll simply leave you with this: have a great week!