Lent marks a distinct change of pace in our liturgical life. The tone of our Mass becomes introspective instead of our usual exuberant style, which will return at Eastertide. In Lent, we add a spoken confession and those parts which are sung are quieter and often in a minor key.
While Advent in our parish is nota penitential season, Lent is. For us, Advent is a time of expectation of the Incarnation, while Lent is a time of preparation for the Resurrection. The Advent liturgy has alleluias, while the Lenten one does not. We sang our last alleluias until Easter last Sunday. To visually illustrate the difference between the two seasons, the clergy wear blue vestments in Advent, while in Lent they wear purple, the color that symbolizes penitence.
To be penitential is somewhat out-of-style in the twenty-first century. Sin, as such, is of no significance to the secular world. We don’t see people running around sackcloth and ashes. We don’t see the humility, the contrition, and the desire to make amends that goes with being “penitential.” Our culture of self-esteem has us constantly telling ourselves, “I’m a good person; I am always right, and I don’t make mistakes,” while discouraging us from stepping back and objectively looking at ourselves and admitting that sometimes we don’t live up to God’s expectations. Simply put, we sin!
The popular meaning of “sin” is “to do something morally wrong.” However, the Greek biblical text, the language of the New Testament, refers to sin as hamarton, which means, “missing the mark.” That is what happens when we sin. We don’t fulfil God’s goal for us, which is to be like God and one with God. This Lent, I invite you to look inside yourselves to answer the question, “How does God want me to live” and “how do I go about living the way God wants me to live.” Since God made us all individually, the answers to those questions will vary with each person, but God does have some universal expectations, which Jesus summarized beautifully in the Two Great Commandments: “Love God with all your heart, mind and soul,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself?
Lent is a time when we repent, that is we engage in “metanoia”, or turning around to go in a different direction. That “turning around” is the beginning of reconciling your relationship with God and with others. The first step in doing this is an honest look at yourself, addressing the questions of who am I, where am I going, why I am going there, and how do I get there. All of those questions ultimately come back to the parameters of our relationship with God.
The traditional three Lenten disciplines, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, are excellent tools to help you understand what God expects of you and how to go about doing it. Prayer can be out of a prayer book, prayers which we’ve memorized, and from Holy Scripture. I find the psalms to be most helpful. I read from the psalter (book of psalms) every night before I go to sleep. The psalms focus you on your relationship with God in poetic fashion. Fasting from junk and excessive quantities of food help us realize God’s expectations in caring for our bodies, but other kinds of fasting are helpful as well, such as fasting from getting angry at others without justification, or disregarding the needs of the least among us. Taking a hard look at your finances could give you an insight into whether you are doing all you are able to support the ongoing ministries of the church and special needs that arise from time to time.
Lastly, consider availing yourself of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. No one has to go to confession, but it is available if you want it. I follow the rule of “all may, some should, none must.” Whether or not you choose to go to confession has no effect on your relationship with me or with the church. If you wish your confession heard, I am available by appointment. As always, anything disclosed in a confession is absolutely confidential without exception.
May God bless you as you keep a Holy Lent!