What Is Lent?

Ash Wednesday was a few days ago, starting the Lenten countdown toward Holy Week and Easter. But maybe some of us are not completely clear as to why these weeks of preparation are there in the first place.

One opinion is that Lent is a time to deprive yourself. You give up candy or smoking or desserts or heavy meals or … well, choose your favorite and then give it up. These are part of Lenten practice.  But what have we forgotten about Lent and its practices?

Well, what if we described Lent as a “Retreat”?

A Retreat, in Catholic and other religions, is a space of days taken out to pray and to be with the Lord. Often one goes to a retreat house to do these. Sizeable groups of men or women stay for two or three days to meditate, listen to talks, and refresh their spiritual lives.

This is not to say that you should disappear to the nearest retreat house for the five weeks of Lent. But what about letting each Lenten day partake of certain retreat practices? For instance, what about setting aside a little time each day to let your insides settle down for a while, to create a space within you to welcome God. Maybe set up a special place in your home or someplace else just to pray. How about a
picture or crucifix or maybe a candle? Or just 10 minutes of silence?

And why not use some time to read in advance the Gospel from the upcoming Sunday Mass? Sit down, read it slowly, and let the scene described take place within your heart and mind.

Let the Lord’s loving deeds be your motivation for “giving up” anything during Lent. Make a gift of gratitude to God—rather than just refraining from something or other. How does any of this prepare you for Holy Week and Easter? By doing exactly what Jesus does when he makes of himself a gift consisting of suffering and death. He is returning a gift of love to the Father. Lent prepares us to witness this reality of our Saviour.

John Foley, SJ