Lent isn’t about giving up chocolate, or ice-cream, or social media. At its heart, Lent is about turning away from sin and being faithful to the gospel. The period of 40 days before Easter, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes at sundown on Holy Thursday. Lent is a season of reflection and preparation for the celebrations of Easter. By observing the 40 days of Lent, Catholics replicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days.
The Church teaches three areas in particular for Catholics to focus on during Lent in order to help us grow over these 40 days: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Prayer is our conversation with God, through which we develop a more intimate relationship with God. Without prayer, fasting and almsgiving are merely actions we do out of tradition without much meaning. It is through prayer that we find the strength to fast. And our relationship with God makes us grateful for the blessings he has bestowed upon us and eager to give to those less fortunate than us.
Throughout the season of Lent, we are called to deepen our prayer life. For some, this may mean beginning a habit of daily prayer during which we can set aside time to share our hopes, joys, fears, and frustrations with God.
Fasting has always been recognized as a powerful tool for building self-discipline and helping us to resist temptation. At a minimum, Catholics are asked to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent, and to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
While the church does not specifically require that we do something beyond the requirements of fasting and abstinence, doing nothing more goes against the spirit of Lent. Thus, many Catholics have traditionally chosen additional penitential practices for Lent that are regulated by individual conscience rather than the Church.
The Lenten call to almsgiving means making the needs of other people our own. One of the central lessons of the cross is compassion; the heavy burdens we carry help us to appreciate the suffering in others. Sharing our material goods is often just the beginning of real Christian giving. We are also called to share our time tending to people in need.
The sacrificial practices of Lent prepare us in body, mind, and spirit for the joy of the Risen Lord at Easter.