Words of Hope: Lenten Season

Today marks the beginning of Lent. It’s a time that triggers strong images and memories of Dad. I can picture him walking around New York City with an ashen cross on his forehead. My children often had winter break in February, and we would go to NYC during this time of year. Dad liked attending Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We would light candles together and pray for one another.  

Lenten time has a tinge of somberness for me, a time for fasting, reflection, and repentance. Lent for me is a time of restraint. We didn’t practice Lent growing up. None of the churches we attended discussed Lent until after I was in college.  

There is something moving about people praying and fasting together in a spirit of humility, a time to ponder what excesses have hindered my life with God. What should I restrict through a time of fasting, what should I repent of (change completely and move in the opposite direction)?  

Lent is taking time to inwardly allow God to clean house before the resurrection celebration on Easter Sunday. It’s a time to take personal inventory of the inward life. Is my heart ready for resurrection? I love this image, the ash from the palms of Palm Sunday marked on our forehead as a reminder of complicity, of complacency. Ash is always a reminder to me of fire and what is burned and what is permanent. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. A perfect way to take inventory.  

I think of Dad having crossed over into eternity. This moment full of cares and restless desires, all gone in the twinkling of an eye. This is the beauty of the Lenten season. The time for prayer, fasting, and giving away. Forty days and forty nights to reflect, repent, practice restraint, release and remember. 

 “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing— grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God. – Joel 2:12-14