The Purpose of Lent

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The Purpose of Lent

Students pose with their Ash Wednesday crosses.

Students pose with their Ash Wednesday crosses.

Students pose with their Ash Wednesday crosses.

Students pose with their Ash Wednesday crosses.

Joseph Beaird, Staff Writer

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“From ashes you were born and from ashes, you shall return.” We hear these words on Ash Wednesday as the priest makes the Sign of the Cross on our forehead with ash. On the surface, these words may seem depressing,  but their purpose has a much deeper meaning.

Although we are dust, it is a reminder that everything in our world is dust: material things, money, and our possessions.  We are encouraged to free ourselves from habits and belongings that keep us away from the Lord. In a sense, this quote is a warning that it is easy to return to sin. During the Lenten season, we are inspired to ignore these temptations and focus on the Lord.

The Lenten season has existed for over 1,000 years. It became regulated in 313 AD, the same year Christianity was legalized by Constantine’s Edict of Toleration. The 40 days of Lent have symbolic significance.  Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and resisting temptations from Satan, Moses stayed at Mt. Sinai with the Lord for 40 days, and Elijah walked to Sinai for 40 days. Lent and the 40 days signify preparation, which makes the purpose of waiting for our Risen Lord on Easter that much more real.

Many saints of the early Church like St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Athanasius and Pope St. Leo pushed to have a season of fasting that lasted 40 days according to apostolic tradition. Before Lent was regularized, it used to be a very hard season. Fasting used to be pushed to the extent of having only one meal for the entire 40 days.

A common tradition of Lent is fasting. The tradition originated in the Old Testament in Daniel 10:2-3, “In those days I (Daniel) was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies; no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.” It is standard practice to abstain from eating meat on Fridays, for it is considered a delicacy. However, we may eat fish on Fridays, as fish is viewed as a symbol of Christ.  

Fasting is a practice that is meant to centralize Christ in our lives. Michael Reza ‘18 realizes the importance of this Lenten Tradition. He explained, “This year I’m going to avoid lying to anyone, and I am also adding a few minutes of prayer each day. I hope to rebuild any relationships that I have lost and strengthen my faith in Christ.”

Like Michael Reza, you do not always need to give something up for Lent. Sometimes you can add something else to your life, like making time to read Scripture. As long as the deed is done for the purpose of growing closer to God, it follows along with healthy Lenten practices.

Lent is not just a time to give up a favorite food or an activity like surfing social media. Focusing too much on our actions, we lose sight of the purpose of Lent- opening our hearts to Jesus. Lent is a season of preparation, much like Advent. We prepare for the rising of Jesus on Easter through prayer, penance, thanksgiving, and fasting.

Adding a new routine to your life can also lead to pride. If someone begins doing more community service during Lent, it can become easy to brag about it to others. Pope Francis preaches that when we do good, we should do it for the sake of doing good. On Ash Wednesday, he said, “We are tempted to seek praise and to be rewarded, that’s human glory; but it’s a false reward because it makes us focus on what others think of us.” Pope Francis encourages us to not concentrate on our actions for the glory of ourselves, rather to give glory to God as a result of such actions.

From ashes to ashes… We are called to live simply, take up our cross and be followers of Christ. It is not easy to call to respond, but the effort leads us to live with greater purpose no matter how far we fall short.

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