Lenten Basics

By Theresa Dierkes

If you are like little highschool me, Lent seems like a huge obstacle to overcome.  Depending on how seriously you take the season, it can be a great challenge and push you in ways you could not have imagined. However, within the struggle lies the beauty.  

I was raised a “Cradle Catholic” and every year during Lent my family would collectively give up sweets and then my Mom would encourage each of us to quietly give up something by ourselves and do something for another person each day during Lent.  She explained that Lent was a time to give up something that could possibly be disconnecting you from God.  For us kids, this meant movies and so we anxiously awaited the glorious Sunday once a week in Lent when we could break our fast.

When I entered high school, the once easy task every year of giving up sweets for Lent became harder because sweets had become a part of my meal where in the past it had been something special my Mom allotted to my siblings and me.  I was struggling with the one thing that I had been given every year during Lent.  Midway through Lent, I was failing miserably in the giving up of sweets.  I was justifying my slips and then being fickle about my commitment to the task.  I mean really, was sweets interrupting my relationship with God?  What if I gave thanks to God when I ate something sweet?  These thoughts danced in my head throughout the remainder of Lent, but by the time Easter rolled around I had not committed to doing anything or giving up something.  The next year followed the same pattern.  By the time the next year rolled around I had had it! I knew I needed a change and decided to get my act together. To do this I had to answer a few questions for myself. What is Lent? Why do we give up something for Lent?  How does this help our spiritual life? Why do we fast?  How much do I need to put into Lent?

Let me start with question number one. What is Lent?

Lent is the penetance and eventual renewal of our baptismal promises. It is a time of solemn repentance, a time to focus on the ways you can become the best version of yourself, a time to reflect on your sins to make sure you do not repeat them, and a time to grow in the glory which is God. In a historical context, it is when Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days while being tempted by the Devil before he was called to die for our sins which was the ultimate sacrifice and victory over sin and the grave.  Hundreds of years later we are following in his example by making sacrifices and amending our lives by making a conscious decision to overcome sin.  Everyone’s sacrifice comes together in the culmination event of Easter where we see the fruits of our sacrifices and dedication in the resurrection of Jesus.

Why do we give up something for Lent?  

The goal of Lent is to take the extra step and notice the sin that surrounds and entices us each day, make a conscious decision to choose good, and ultimately strengthen our relationship with God.  We give up the things that our sinful in our life or the things that are distracting us from a genuine relationship with God.  There are things that we can also give up that are given up as a sacrificial offering too. Allow me to use an example.  Say I want to give up sweets this Lent.  I need to ask myself why I am giving up sweets.  Is it to lose weight, obtain a healthier lifestyle, simple sacrifice a little pleasure for the greater glory of God, or another motive?  Although losing weight can be a healthy lifestyle choice and cutting out sweets is a great way to lose some extra pounds, viewing it in this way only goes skin deep.  We may lose the weight and feel better, but what have I gained spiritually from the experience.  If you view cutting out sweets as either a healthy lifestyle choice or a sacrificial offering however, it give the action of giving them up so much more purpose.  You are doing it for a reason beyond yourself.  A healthier body will allow you to perform better as a person and the personal sacrifice brings glory to God’s kingdom.  

How does this help our spiritual life?

Lent doesn’t simply mean giving up something.  Not doing something can be a sin.  Therefore, Lent can be a time to reach out of your shell and take action to improve yourself and ultimately your relationship with God.  The decision to do something for Lent is the first step in improving your relationship with God and therefore strengthening your spiritual life.  Asking God to help you with your sacrifice and doing something that reminds you to think of God is another step towards making everyday a prayer to God thus strengthening our spiritual life.

Why do we fast and how do I fast?  

Fasting is the separation of mind and body.  Fasting is an important part of the Catholic lifestyle especially in the world today where we are surrounded by materialistic ideals and lifestyle choices.  It is hard to focus on God with all the distractions to world has to offer.  Fasting allows for an outlet to focus on God.  Think of it as a retreat for the mind and body.  When you go on a retreat you are whisked away from the droll of everyday life with technology and multiple distractions and this fasting from the business of the world allows for precious intimate time with God where we are able to hear his voice more clearly.  Fasting also is a way to put the mind over the body and a way to humble yourself before God. The fast does not have to be just food.  It can be anything that is a distraction for you and takes away quality time with the Lord.  The Catholic church requires Catholics to fast on two days out of the liturgical year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  We are fasting as sign of humility before God the creator and God the savior respectively. On these days the church asks for you to abstain from meat and eat only one full meal and two additional snacks that do not equal a full meal.  

How much do I need to put into Lent?

Similar to most things, you get out what you put in.  Highschool me put in very little effort and as a result reaped very little. The commitment to giving something up or doing something for forty days reflects the time Jesus spent in the desert.  It is a time to draw ourselves closer to God as we detach ourselves from the world. Remember that Lent may end with Easter, but reconciliation is a daily activity.  Make the most of your Lenten Season this year!