We are now beginning the third month of our Church’s new year of grace and favor from the Lord God and in less than two weeks we will begin the great and holy penitential season of Lent. All of us are familiar enough with this special time of grace which assists us to examine our consciences in all sincerity and, using the Church’s tried and true means of fervent prayer, active good works and sincere and specific acts of penance, rid our lives of sin and its effects in preparation for our greatest feast of Easter.
Lent is “the liturgical season of forty days which begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with the celebration of the Paschal mystery (Easter Triduum). Lent is the primary penitential season in the Church’s liturgical year, reflecting the forty days Jesus spent in the desert in fasting and prayer” (CCC, Glossary).
Last month I spoke a bit about making real resolutions for the calendar new year and suggested we adopt what we have been doing for the Year of Faith as our resolutions for 2013. Allow me to say the same about our coming Lenten season. However, whatever we have committed ourselves to for the Year of Faith, if any or all of the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, penance and almsgiving are not part of it, we really need to add them to what we are doing already.
Let’s review in brief what the Church teaches us about these three necessary practices. Prayer is “the elevation of the mind and heart to God in praise of his glory; a petition made to God for some desired good, or in thanksgiving for a good received, or in intercession for others before God. Through prayer the Christian experiences a communion with God through Christ in the Church” (CCC, 2559-2565). Penance is of two types: “Interior penance is a conversion of heart toward God and away from sin, which implies the intention to change one’s life because of hope in divine mercy (CCC, 1431). External acts of penance include fasting, prayer and almsgiving (CCC, 1434). Almsgiving is “money or goods given to the poor as an act of penance or fraternal charity. Almsgiving, together with prayer and fasting, are traditionally recommended to foster the state of interior penance (CCC, 1969, 2447). What we learned as the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy are one of the best ways for us to engage ourselves in Lenten almsgiving.
The reason the Church celebrates a special season of penance is so that what we do during Lent will fortify us spiritually every day and what we do during Lent the Church urges us to continue after Lent has ended. In other words, to develop that good habit of daily prayer, doing good for others and practicing some acts of self-denial so that we are able to better discern good from evil and choose the good and shun what is evil. There is no better time for us to begin developing this good habit than Ash Wednesday.
Make an effort to get to Mass during the week as well as on Sunday; go to confession more frequently; and commit to praying daily and setting a good example for others. Doing this, Lent then will be a time of abundant grace and willing conversion to Christ and His way of life.