Wednesday, March 11, 2020 - Updated: 2:45 pm
QUESTION: Because we do Lent every year, I wonder what the church really expects will happen to us in Lent? What are the expectations?
ANSWER: Any response to the question above should consider the fundamental focus of the whole season of Lent. Initially it involved evangelization. Lent was the period of preparation for those who were becoming part of the Christian community at Easter.
There was an assumption that every Christian would encourage others to enter the church. If that was taking place, then the sponsors of those coming into the church would join in the period of preparation. They too would be deepening their understanding of the faith as they accompanied the catechumens. The season of Lent came to be a time of bringing others to the faith by deepening it in ourselves.
Today, Lent is both communal and personal. The church is fairly straightforward about what is to be observed as communal Lent (that which we all do). Thus, the directives for fasting and abstaining are clear about what is expected on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the other Fridays of Lent. The second general expectation is that all Catholics give serious consideration as to how they can incorporate into their lives the traditional triad of prayer, fasting and care for the poor. The communal aspect is that all of us are addressing these aspects is some way. There is a sense of corporate witness to our common journey to Easter.
The personal side of Lent is more complex and challenging. It actually begins with our personal observance of the communal elements described above. That part is about how we make our own what is expected of all.
For example, what if I really enjoy fish and looked forward to those Fridays in Lent? If Lent is to be a true sacrifice, does a fish lover really sacrifice by eating it? If it is not a penance to abstain from meat, the personal aspect of Lent may be challenging us to do something more than what everyone else is doing.
Lent is about each of us personally deepening our relationship with God. It is about growing closer to Christ and to one another. How is that happening in my life is a great Lenten question. Lent isn’t something we do every year as a burden; it must be something we do each year that draws us closer to Christ. At the end of Lent, if we are healthier people because of what we ate and what we avoided eating during Lent, but we are the same judgmental, rude, uncaring neighbor, spouse, co-worker or friend, what good has Lent been?
The annual repetition of Lent does not reduce its value. It is still worthwhile because each year we assess the progress made in our lives and determine what more needs to be done. Each Lent is a time to determine what is truly valuable in our lives and what is just baggage that is holding us back or slowing us down. If our goal is eternal life with Christ, no baggage is worth carrying if it holds us back from our goal.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.