Lent: A Season to Get Close to the Lord

On Ash Wednesday when we receive the ashes on our foreheads, we commit ourselves to follow Christ in His 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert. For many Catholics, Lent involves giving up coffee, chocolate or other guilty vices. Others forgo television or commit to attending daily Mass. The 40 days of Lent are set aside each year as a way for the faithful to draw closer to God through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and acts of penance. 

St. John Paul II, in his apostolic exhortation “Reconciliation and Penance,” emphasized the importance of self-mortification (dying to self). Penance, the Pope said, is “an effort to put off the old man and put on the new… to overcome in oneself what is of the flesh in order that what is spiritual may prevail.” These acts of sacrifice, he said, help to re-establish the harmony with God that was broken by sin. Each year during Lent, the US  Catholic Bishops, call on all Catholics to abstain from meat and offer penitential acts on all Fridays of the year — not just during Lent — for the protection of human life, marriage, and religious liberties. Lent in particular offers Catholics an opportunity to experience a conversion of heart through the three disciplines of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. 

Penance is an act aimed at conversion of heart. That means turning away from the darkness of this world (sin) and turning toward the light of God (grace) turning away from what is wrong and turning toward what is right. A true conversion helps us become more focused on Christ and on goodness and beauty and truth. 

A big part of penance is that it frees us to be with Christ, to allow our passions and our appetites to be subdued by Christ so we can really be with Him and learn from Him and be like Him. In order to free ourselves and find happiness this Lent,  Jesus challenges us to let go of our many attachments: anger, grudge against someone, refusal to forgive someone, personal vices, personal idols. Letting go such things and confessing them in the Sacrament of Penance frees us to find happiness in our life. Other forms of penance include fasting and almsgiving.

Monsignor John S. Mbinda