Lent. Forty days of prayer, penitence, fasting, and reflection that prepare us for the celebration of Easter . It draws our attention to the frailty of the human condition (“Remember you dust,” the priest says on Ash Wednesday, while imposing ashes in the form of a cross on the penitent’s forehead, “and to dust you shall return”), and invites us to examine our lives for impediments to God’s grace and love. Lent reminds us that, life being short, we need constantly to return to God and remember who-and whose-we are.
Historically, Lent has been a time to feel bad about ourselves-to deflate the ego and mortify the flesh-so that we might rediscover God’s mercy. But in modern times we are more concerned about fulfilling our potential than cutting through our hubris. So we speak of “taking things on” for Lent, not just giving things up. We find worthy causes for the expenditure of our time, talent, and treasure. We read edifying books, or attend study groups. We think about our lives, and where we’re going, and make corrective course changes.
Lent is reflected in our Sunday worship by a solemn tone, the sounding of the prayer bowl, by silence, and by an ancient rite called the Reconciliation of a Penitent, that is, confession and absolution. The scriptural themes revolve around Jesus’ call to a life of humility, discipline, and generosity. It is a reflective time that prepares us to receive God’s love and become who we are.