I love Lent. Please don’t misunderstand me. It’s not that I embrace penance or self-denial more eagerly than others do. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak! The disciplines of Lent, of course, do involve self-denial. But these acts of penance and almsgiving, as well as our greater commitment to prayer, are liberating. They are directed toward renewal. Lent is the liturgical season which highlights the call to repentance and ongoing conversion more urgently than any other. Now is the time to prepare ourselves with the whole Church for the celebration and experience of new life at Easter. Jesus Christ died for you and for me. We will only share the joy of his victory if we acknowledge our need for a savior. Lent puts us in touch with that deep human and spiritual need.
If we are truly seeking a deeper conversion to Christ and desire to live as his disciples it seems strange that we usually take on penances and disciplines during Lent simply to discard them at Easter. Unfortunately, that is often the way we approach this penitential season. Discipleship is a lifelong journey and a year-round way of life. The most fruitful Lenten disciplines help us focus on those areas of our life in which the Lord is calling us to deeper conversion and repentance. In other words, it is not primarily about what legitimate pleasure we should “give up” during Lent, but about what sin in our life we need to repent of so that we can follow Christ more faithfully. What obstacles need to be removed? What relationships need to be repaired, improved or ended? What bad habits need to be broken? What virtues (good habits) need to be strengthened? Our acts of fasting, almsgiving and our prayer open our hearts to God’s grace so that we can follow Christ more closely.