Lent has surprisingly modern appeal Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Feb. 04, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

Christians around the world mark Lent’s beginning by celebrating Ash Wednesday, Feb. 10 this year.

Lent has a surprising modern appeal. Some pastors say that next to Christmas, more people come to church on Ash Wednesday than on any other day, including Easter.

Facing a basic truth

The ashes help us face a basic truth that we may try to avoid, namely death. When we receive ashes, the priest or deacon says, “Remember, you are dust and unto dust, you shall return.” They may also say, “Repent and believe the Good News!”

Combined, the words remind us that we will die and return to dust; therefore, while we’re still alive, we are to repent and believe the Good News!

During Lent we are to choose a penance that helps us become a more Christ-like person. Often our penance is a form of prayer, fasting, and/or almsgiving that is mentioned in Ash Wednesday’s Gospel.

Improving our prayer life

As a Lenten penance, we can examine and improve our prayer life. Do we pray mechanically or do we raise our minds and hearts to God? Do we pray only in emergencies or is prayer a daily practice?

Do we study the Mass so we can participate fully, actively, and prayerfully? Do we pray the Rosary, morning and evening prayers, and/or Divine Mercy devotions?

Fasting and abstinence

During Lent, the Church requires most Catholics to fast. Everyone between the age of 18 and 59 must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. (Fasting means that we are to eat only one full meal a day.) Everyone 14 years of age or older must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Fridays of Lent.

Medieval monks fasted from butter, lard, and fat. They celebrated an Ash Wednesday ceremony called “Burying the Fat ” in which they put butter in a casket and actually buried it. They took it seriously because they believed it was their way of sharing in Christ’s suffering.

Giving up some food items may be healthy and sacrificial, but during Lent we can also bury the hatchet and forgive those who hurt us. We can bury our selfishness and give more of our time, talent, and treasure to serve others.

We can bury our indifference and rise earlier to spend time in prayer, attend Mass, or do spiritual reading.

Giving to others

Another penance is almsgiving, giving money or food to poor people. Recent popes have asked us to repent of selfishness that ignores the needs of the poor and oppressed and rationalizes that we can satisfy our obligations toward them by gifts of charity from our surplus wealth without examining unjust structures that cause poverty and oppression.

Pope Francis, however, suggests that we fast from indifference, which leaves no room for concern for the poor. He added that such fasting opens us to feast on Easter love.

Family practices

As their children’s primary religious educators, parents should encourage them to choose a Lenten penance. The family can also do penances together such as attending Mass and Stations of the Cross, praying the Rosary, contributing to a Lenten poor box, sponsoring a Third World child, or visiting a shut-in, senior citizen, or retired priest.

Parents can make Fridays of Lent a special reminder of Christ’s sacrificial love for us. Praising God as a family helps bring families closer together and closer to heaven. Fr. Patrick Peyton, the “Rosary priest” stated, “The family that prays together, stays together.”

Pope Francis has recommended 10 areas that can help us choose a Lenten penance: 1) Get rid of the lazy addiction to evil that deceives us and ensnares us. 2) Do something that hurts. 3) Don’t remain indifferent. 4) Pray: Make our hearts like Yours. 5) Take part in the sacraments. 6) More intense prayer. 7) Almsgiving. 8) Fasting. 9) Help the poor. 10) Evangelize!

Lent prepares us to renew our baptismal promises at Easter. During the Easter Triduum, we remember that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead so that we might enjoy heaven’s eternal joy.

May we enjoy a fruitful Lent that helps us live the Easter season and beyond with renewed faith and Easter joy!


Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.