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What is the meaning of Lent?

Julian Paparella

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Photo by Cristian Gutiérrez, LC on Cathopic.
As we journey once again through this season of Lent, let us take a moment to ask ourselves: What is the meaning of Lent? 
The word "Lent" comes from the Old English word lencten, meaning "spring." This is a beautiful way of understanding this holy season: as a transition from the barrenness of winter to the new life of springtime. This spiritual springtime spans from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday, the day of the Last Supper that Jesus shares with His disciples before suffering His passion. 
Often, we think of Lent as an arduous time when we have to grit our teeth and strive to improve ourselves. Perhaps we want to lose weight, so we give up chocolate. Or we want to give our liver a break, so we give up alcohol. We can easily focus on our human efforts and how much self-discipline we can muster for self-improvement. But is this really what Lent is all about?
In reality, Lent is not so much about what we can do for God – or for ourselves – but rather about what Jesus does for us, and how we can get on His wavelength. During Lent, we accompany Jesus on His journey to Jerusalem, the place of our salvation, of Christ’s death and resurrection. It is about getting in tune with the sacrifice that Jesus makes of Himself, a sacrifice that none of our actions could ever match or equal. Jesus’ gift of Himself for us is totally unique, once and for all. It surpasses anything we could do or deserve. 
Each year, we experience Lent in order to open ourselves more to receive the gift of His sacrifice for us. The focus is not so much on what we can or cannot do, but on what Jesus has done, is doing and will do for us. In this way, any sacrifice we make enters into the dynamic of Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself. Thus, the harshness and aridity of the desert of our own self-denial is softened by God's mercy, tenderness, and compassion that come to pick us up and lead us onwards. 
Lent is this path of conversion on which God takes us by the hand as a Father, so that we can walk forward with His Son Jesus in the Holy Spirit. Lent prepares us for what we will celebrate over the Paschal Triduum, leading us from Holy Thursday, through Good Friday, to Easter Sunday, when we will see Jesus give Himself up for us, give his life and rise on the third day. It is not merely some heavy burden to bear, but a time of promise, a time to grow with the Lord, to let ourselves be led by Him, and to find greater strength, energy, fervour, and enthusiasm in following Him. The season of Lent is not only an opportunity to allow ourselves to be strengthened by God in the face of our temptations, our evil inclinations, but even more so the opportunity to allow ourselves to be transfigured, shaped, modelled by Christ, in His image and likeness. A time to grow as sons and daughters of the Father in Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit. 
The three practices that characterise Lent – prayer, fasting, and acts of mercy – are keys to entering into this dynamic of grace through which God transforms us, little by little, one step at a time. The aim of Lent is not to go from zero to a hundred in 40 days, but rather to take that next step forward that God is calling us to take with Him this year. 
Jesus invites you and me to accompany Him on this pilgrimage from death to new life, and He is at work all throughout Lent, leading us on this journey that He makes with us and which He has already trod before us. The whole Church journeys together on this path of transformation, following the footsteps of our Lord. How is Jesus calling you to turn to Him this Lent? How does Christ invite you to be more aware of what He is doing in and around you? What new paths does Jesus want to open up for you, so that you can more fully experience His death and resurrection this year? At the same time, let us remember that we are not alone on this Lenten journey. We live this time together, as Church, as fellow travellers, like the first disciples that Jesus gathered around Himself. Let us find ways of living Lent together – with Christ and with one another. How can you share your Lenten journey with the people in your life – your family, friends, coworkers, and parish community? 
Jesus, send your Spirit to renew us, strengthen us, transform us during these 40 days. Walk with us, guide our steps, take us by the hand as we walk together in following you.

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