Lent is a season of penance and preparation for the glorious Resurrection of Jesus. It begins with the distribution of ashes and ends (if we include the mini-season of the Easter Triduum) with the darkness before the light of Easter Vigil. Catholics around the world traditionally give up something for Lent, be it dessert or television or something else we love. Yet too many of us stop there, limiting our Lenten observance to simply removing something. Is it any wonder that Lent has become a time of moaning and groaning, of more sadness than joy?
We ignore the Gospel for Ash Wednesday. Christ tells us,
When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you (Matthew 6:16-18).
Lent isn’t a time for doom and gloom. Lent is a time of preparation as well as penance. We fast, but only to the extent that it brings us closer to Christ. If our fast isn’t done with that goal in mind, then it would be a reason for gloomy faces and depressed comments.
But even in Lent, we are an Easter people.
That’s why I’m a big supporter of doing something for Lent. There are lots of ways to approach this. You could add some prayers to your daily routine (I’ve added a rosary on the way to work in the morning), or some spiritual reading (I’m reading Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelley) to draw closer to Christ in this holy season.
If you do fast from something, make it count, but don’t go too far (as one priest I know put it, don’t become a penance for someone else!). For example, for years I would give up drinking anything but water during Lent. I did this for several years, and without fail I would get sick (lack of vitamins maybe?). It might be more of a fast to do a limited amount of something you love, rather than cutting it out cold turkey. So, in my case, this year I realized I waste a lot of time on Facebook (plus it gets me depressed half the time). In response, I’ve limited my Facebook time to 15 minutes at most each day, but ONLY after I’ve done my spiritual reading AND written at least a paragraph for an article or blogpost (like this one :D).
Of course, as I said, different people have different spiritual habits and do different penances and preparations during Lent. The key, no matter what you do, is us the time of spiritual cleansing to prepare a place for our risen Lord who, in His infinite love, died for us so that we could be with Him forever in Heaven.
So smile during Lent, carry your penance with the taste of Easter joy, and hopefully you will find yourself closer to Jesus, He who walks with you along the journey and waits for you at the mouth of the empty tomb.