The Season of Lent
by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.
The word season has many meanings, and each tells us something about what Lent can and should mean for us.
It means, first of all, one of the four seasons of the year. Lent falls during the late winter and early spring seasons. This year Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, falls on February 17. Lent ends at Holy Thursday, the beginning of the Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter). Easter, this year, is on April 4.
Everyone knows the date for Easter is different every year. If you've ever wondered how it is determined, here is the answer. Use it to stump your friends! Easter Sunday is the first Sunday following the first full moon that follows the spring equinox. Spring begins on March 20/21.Check your calendar for the next full moon after that date. Easter is the next Sunday. So, this year, the first full moon occurs on March 29th (Monday), and thus the next Sunday, April 4, is Easter Sunday. That rule applies every year.
But season also means “a time of year when something is best." For example, "oyster season" refers to the months when oysters are at peak flavor and supply. And season used as a verb (“to season”) means to heighten the flavor of food by adding condiments and other spices.
All of these meanings can help us to grasp the deeper meaning of Lent. First of all, to approach Easter—the most significant feast of our faith and of the Church year—we need to prepare ourselves as we do for any major celebration or event. Anyone involved in making wedding plans knows you don’t do that over the weekend. It takes time to make sure everything is just right for this most important day.
Important Truths Can Fade
Someone might say, “Well, I believe already; I go to Mass and communion regularly, so why all the fuss?” The truth is that there is not one of us who doesn’t need to refresh ourselves, our consciousness and our awareness of what our faith means. That is true of priests and religious as well as lay people.
We need to be honest with ourselves. The simple fact is that no matter how great something is, we can take it for granted. We get used to it and it can fade in importance. Other less important things begin to take precedence. What husband and wife in their marriage have not had to ask themselves whether they are taking each other for granted? A priest who offers Mass each day can find himself losing awareness of the sacredness of the act he is offering each day. “Familiarity can breed contempt” is not just a clever saying; we know the truth of it from our experience.
Lent is a time to “season” our lives with a deeper realization of what we actually believe. Jesus, son of God, died for me. My own efforts and good work don’t save me. They are important because they make faith alive in my life, not just an abstract fact in my head. Some say, “Of course I believe, but don’t ask me to get to serious about it.” Lent is dead serious, because it is about life and eternity.
If Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, is the greatest of all our feasts, we must prepare and remind ourselves how graced and fortunate we are that we are believers. When a loved one dies, we know that the truth of the resurrection eases our tears of loss and temporary separation. Jesus’ resurrection causes us to know that we and our loved ones will be together some day with God in heaven.
Now, some of us old folks remember the many fast and abstinence days we experienced early on. Less is required now: fasting only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent. Actually, that’s pretty mild.
Voluntary acts of self-denial, beyond the minimum requirements, can also be beneficial for us. But there are many other acts we can do that can bring us a deeper awareness during the Lenten season. Could you go to Mass one day a week during Lent? Could you make a little donation to some worthy cause each week by giving up an alcoholic beverage? What about giving up smoking (which would be healthy and surely penitential) and giving the money saved to help another?
Lent is always a good time to get to confession, especially if you have been avoiding this sacrament. What about simply looking at your own temperament and asking, “In my relationships with others, have I been getting moody this past year?” What about determining to treat others at work or in the family with more kindness, considerateness and awareness of their feelings?
We are so blessed with our faith. We know the answers to the most important questions of life: Why are we here on earth? What’s my purpose and what has God called me to do? Am I doing what I know I should be doing? Lent is a perfect season to take stock of our lives and show the Lord we are grateful for the gift of faith.