Lent is the traditional time of fasting, prayer and charitable work for Christians. It is a way of preparing to celebrate the Lord’s Passion and death, so that by coming to terms with the sin in our lives, which killed Jesus, we may share more fully in the new life he won for us by conquering death.
Lent starts on Ash Wednesday (14th February), when ashes are blessed and put on the people’s heads at Mass. Dust and ashes are a traditional sign of mourning and repentance, since they remind us of the dust from which we were made and to which we return at death. We remember our mortality and weakness so that we may receive God’s grace.
Lent is kept for forty days and nights representing our Lord’s fasting in the desert. In the Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent we hear that Jesus was tempted by the devil, but remained faithful to God’s will. A temptation is not a sin. It puts us at a crossroads – do we give way or take a stand on the side of conscience? Lent is an invitation to renew our faith. Do we take the opportunity of a fresh beginning or do we leave things as they are? Do we take a step forward or do we slip backwards? As a Christian, there is no standing still.
The devil does his best work by discouragement. Family quarrels, difficulties at work, the break-up of relationships, can narrow our vision to look only at the problems and fail to bring God into the bigger picture. We may be tempted to give up responsibility for ourselves, our future and to see ourselves as victims. Christians through the ages have overcome this temptation not so much by trying to force themselves into a different state of mind but by sincere and trustful prayer to Jesus. As the letter to the Hebrews says, “because he has himself been through temptation he is able to help others who are tempted”.
Direct our heart to you, O Lord, so that we may follow you more closely this Lent and all the days of our life; in all our needs we turn to you for the help of your grace, and ask you to give us strength to work for the things we ask for in faith, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Prayer adapted from Thomas a Kempis)