Why do we celebrate Lent? This is a question that’s been nudging me this year as I tried to figure out what to give up as a penance. The last couple of years haven’t been much to celebrate. First I tried giving up writing for Lent, but it didn’t work. Last year I decided to do something for Lent instead, and read the Gospels–but for some reason I never made it past Luke. I have no Lenten achievements to celebrate. I’ve never been “good” at it. Can anyone really say they are?
But this year it finally sank in for me that Lent isn’t just a “punishment,” or another thing I can’t do. I realized that Lent is celebrated because it helps us gain something. Depending on the person, the degree of what you give up materially is going to help you gain more spiritually.
Gain more of what, exactly? Life is a battle and we all have something we struggle with. Think of Lent as practice time with a sword: You weren’t very good at it, but there was a battle coming. After fourty days of hard training that was anything but pleasant, you’ll go back and find you can handle your weapon more precisely than before. This weapon is faith. You don’t exactly have to wait until Lent to give up Internet time so Jesus can shape you up. But since Lent is the time when everyone is in it together, you’ll find there’s more support for the training among your friends and family.
When Jesus spent fourty days in the desert, not only was He tempted, but He prayed the whole time. Even though He was attacked ferociously during this solitude, He had God right there, and nothing to distract Him. This period of fourty days was a time spent with the Father, where not only did he do penance, but the Holy Spirit gave Him strength against temptation. I believe Jesus was setting an example for us all when He willingly did this. It tells us that Lent isn’t only a time to give up something you don’t need: It’s a period where you spend more time with God, and He prepares you for the rest of the year.
For us today, it’s a good chance to cut social networking and unnecessary luxuries. It’s easy to understand Lent as just a time to give something up, a time to diet for a little while. We forget that it’s not just the effort on our side that’s going to change us. It’s an opportunity sent by the Lord to build a foundation!
Life is a battle, yet we cannot practice fighting with so many distractions in our way. Lent is a wonderful time to join with the rest of the Church in training. Giving up what we don’t need is just one side of it, but remember to stop and listen for His voice. Just like Jesus in the desert was tempted with particular fervor, we’re also going to be tempted when we have rid ourselves of these distractions. What He did was something we should all do: He listened for the voice of the Father, became stronger, then went back and began His ministry! Likewise, we should be fending off temptation with the help of the Holy Spirit, reading the Bible and working out strategies.
Lent isn’t just sacrifice, it’s training. In this worldly battle, everything material will become dust. Only what we built in Heaven will count! So, if your Lent only consists of fasting from something you don’t need, make sure you’re also gaining from it spiritually. Don’t waste your blessing!