COLUMN: The spiritual recommitment of Lent

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While many Christians celebrate the holidays of Christmas and Easter where something material is gained in the form of presents, brightly adorned baskets and meticulously prepared feasts, far fewer choose to commit to the solemnness necessary for the Lenten season, which begins this year on Wednesday, Feb. 22. 

The Lenten season requires self-sacrifice and the commitment to give of our time, our thoughts and our wants opposed to the effervescence of the jovial holidays. Lent is a time where Christians’ rubber meets the road. Lent asks us to exercise delayed gratification, which is becoming more foreign in modern times. 

Lent is a time of observance of the 40 days and nights that Jesus spent in the Judean Desert fasting and facing temptations after he was baptized by John the Baptist. Worldwide, Christians honor this period with surrender, reflection and fasting as a symbol of remembrance and reverence of Jesus’ sacrifice leading to his crucifixion and resurrection. It is a 40-day period of prayer, fasting and reflection in the Christian calendar that starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday.  

During Lent, many Christians practice self-discipline like fasting, almsgiving (charitable acts) and prayer to prepare themselves spiritually for the celebration of Easter. Prior to the first day of Lent, Shrovetide is a time for Christians to reflect on the sacrifices they are willing to make during the Lenten season. 

Shrovetide ends on Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday. This day is celebrated in different parts of the world with various traditions. The most famous celebration takes place in New Orleans where thousands of people come together to enjoy music and food. Fat Tuesday is a popular time for indulging in sweets, treats and drinking, since it marks the beginning of abstaining from such activities during Lenten season. 

The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday, when ashes are placed on worshippers’ foreheads as a sign of repentance for sins with a blessing of “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” A profound reminder of our mortality and that we, as Christians, are not deities, thus invoking humility. 

It is a time for self-reflection, prayer and rededicating oneself to God.  Lent is also a time for charitable works and acts of kindness. In many places, churches organize activities for the community, such as volunteering for the less fortunate. Celebrating Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday serves as an important reminder of our faith journey and relationship with God.  

Though traditions may vary by location, it’s important to remember why we celebrate them: to recognize Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice and prepare our own hearts for the season of Lent.  No matter how one celebrates Fat Tuesday – with food, drink or festivities – it is a day to rejoice in all that God has given us. Likewise, Ash Wednesday is a solemn reminder of our journey to Easter Sunday and an opportunity to make a spiritual renewal. We can take this time to remember Jesus’ love for us and reflect his love toward others in our treatment of our friends, neighbors and even enemies. May we use this time to soften our hearts and allow room for grace, both received and given. 

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