What is Lent?
Lent is the forty day period before Easter, excluding Sundays, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on the evening of Maundy Thursday, making way for the celebration of the ‘Triduum’, the three most important days of the Church’s year: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.
In the scriptures forty days is a traditional period of time for discipline, devotion and preparation as we see, for instance, in the Gospels when Jesus goes into the wilderness to prepare for his ministry. The early Church soon set aside the days before Easter as a time for preparing candidates for their baptism and for encouraging Christian people to pray, to give charitably and to fast. It is a fact that Christians have not always been as disciplined in such ways as people of the other faiths, but many are now reclaiming the spiritual insights and benefits of using Lent properly to discover God and the self more deeply. So, what can we do this Lent?
Worship: Why not consider going to a weekday Mass? Holy Trinity has a daily Mass for you to join in. Lent may be a time for you to take worship a little more seriously during your working week. Holy Hour is also a special time to be with Jesus in prayer and praise.
Private prayer: Our prayer lives can be very haphazard and undisciplined. Lent has traditionally been a time to correct this. Churches are open for you to pop in and take the deep breath of prayer. Maybe you prefer to try and pray at home, setting aside a few minutes each day to bring yourself consciously into the presence of God. This can be a very difficult thing to do if we are wound up, distracted and stressed! We may need to light a candle, play some music or breathe slowly before we can either pray in silence or in words. For the Christian nothing is more important than our relationship with God because it affects all our other relationships, choices and behaviour. All loving relationships need time spent on them, time that can often feel as if it’s being wasted, and our relationship with God is no different. What should you do about this in Lent?
Giving up: Most people think that Lent is about giving something up and it can often be a good idea to see whether you are able to give a few things up. What are you addicted to (can you answer that question?!) and what does this say about you? If you give up alcohol or chocolate you might also think of giving the money you would normally have spent on them to a charity. Wherever possible try and make your giving up beneficial to someone else other than you. Sometimes Lent can be a good opportunity to give up something that is harming you and the body that is, after all, God’s gift entrusted to you. If you are healthy, a “hunger lunch” once a week can be a good idea – eat less and give the money you save to a good cause.
Taking on: Some people prefer to take things on rather than give something up. This can range from taking more care of yourself (by taking exercise, for instance) to making sure that you do something more profitable one night of the week than watching TV. One might consider helping out as a volunteer somewhere or deciding to visit someone who is lonely or not well. You could decide to be more environmentally friendly and change some bad habits. Christians need to take much more seriously their belief that God has entrusted his creation to us and that to exploit and spoil this world and its environment is sinful. Perhaps you might consider sponsoring a child through a charitable organisation? Lent is a season in which to redeem your time rather than waste it!
Money: As we know, a good way of taking a look at our values is to take a look at our bank statement and see where we spend our money. Most of us can easily be a little more generous towards those who are less fortunate or to some charity that needs help. What about considering giving the weekly money that you would normally spend on a magazine, the cinema, cigarettes, beer, another meal out to a charity that helps those who cannot afford such luxuries? Although many people think that all Christians can get worked up about is sex, actually the thing that Jesus talks about and warns people about much more is their attitude towards their belongings and money. What we possess can quickly possess us. Is it time to review your giving to the Church or to be more responsible in the way you give it? How much does your church mean to you?
Reading: What about treating yourself to half an hour’s reading a day – and not just when you are nodding off at night? There are some excellent spiritual books available. You might also use the time to learn more about our Christian tradition and history. You can always ask Father Richard or Father John for some advice about books.