Today begins the season of Lent, and also begins our blog series of Lenten Reflections. Today we start off with a post by our lovely alumna Vanessa Chan. You can check out Vanessa’s blog here.
As we begin the liturgical season of Lent, some might ask themselves: okay, so what do I give up this year? Rather than providing you answers, hopefully this can give you an overall perspective to approach Lent, and realize that there are other questions to ask, too.
So, Lent: what is it? One simple description I’ve heard is that it is a period of spiritual preparation for ourselves, as we approach the commemoration of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection. This forty-odd day period before Easter, echoing the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness to pray, might draw about imagery of ourselves wandering alone in the desert. However, since we’re in Canada, I’d like to propose that we can also think of it as our great, snowy outdoors… a spiritual winter, perhaps.
Why winter? Unlike a sandy desert, which buries all the dead things in sand, we can see the remnants of what were alive: twigs, barren trees, and the like. Animals hide away in their holes to hibernate, leaving few signs of life outside. Seeing everything stripped down, exposing what has been lost for what it is, is perhaps an ideal of Lent – our inward reflection to unearth those behaviours or thoughts that turn us away from God, those things that make the fruits of the Spirit wilt.
But the other reason for the wintery image is something we all look forward to at some point mid-February: winter doesn’t last forever. When we enter into Lent, we already have the knowledge that our Saviour rose from the grave on the third day. Just as plants die in winter so that they can grow again and be renewed in spring, we are called to unite ourselves with Jesus’ suffering so that we may also rise with Him as a new creation – even long after our baptism, we are constantly being changed to become closer and closer to God, if we so choose.
That’s great, you might be thinking, but how do I go about it? Most people enter Lent with some sort of spiritual discipline they carry with them throughout the season. There are many saints, theologians and friends who can give you better suggestions, but I’ll try giving my own two cents:
1. Think of something that you want to improve on.
Have a bad habit you want to kick? Don’t really read the Bible that often? Eat too much chocolate?
If Lent is a time to look inside and see what you can do better on, think of something that you want to last after the forty days have passed. If you’re just going to give up something you don’t do often anyway, it defeats the purpose of giving it up in the first place, that challenge of binding yourself to His Cross.
2. It doesn’t have to be about ‘giving something up’.
One wise piece of advice I heard was that your personal spiritual discipline during Lent can also be an additive experience rather than always being about taking something away. For example, if you find it hard to make space for personal prayer in your life, you could try dedicating ten minutes of silent prayer a day during Lent.
3. Try ramping it up over the weeks.
Developing good behaviour takes time. If there’s something that seems a bit lofty to achieve at first, take smaller steps and work towards it over the six weeks of Lent. One of my friends wanted to go to daily Mass more often, and she started the first week by going once, and then increasing that over Lent. By the time Holy Week came around, she was going every day!
4. Take part in the Sacraments regularly.
We won’t always succeed in keeping our Lenten commitments. God knows that, and that’s okay! In the struggle to make ourselves better reflections of His glory, we will grow more and more aware of our own shortcomings. He comes to us in the form of the Sacraments to strengthen us in this journey, to comfort us in times of distress, to heal us of our brokenness. And He’s always waiting, so just run to Him. It’s a personal journey we all make, but we’re never alone.
These are just a few suggestions in centuries’ worth of experience that the Church has to offer. They’re applicable at any time of the year, but Lent is a time where we can draw particular attention to our own state, our personal relationship with God, and how we can become closer to Him. So as we journey through Lent together, let us pray for each other, that we can all grow in faith and love.