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 | By Isabella Pardino

Embracing the mission of Lent

Lent is a season for reflection, repentance and prayer. The words of the prophet Joel to the people of Israel more than 400 years before the birth of Christ are still applicable for us today:

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment. Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind a blessing.” (12-14)

Lent is a time of conversion, a time to change our ways. When we turn to the Lord with our whole heart, we gain the ability and mindset to look for all the good things God wants to give us each day.

Lent is a penitential season, meaning that it offers us the opportunity for reflection and repentance. It is an opportunity to grow in holiness. These 40 days are, in many ways, pure gift. We are given the time to pour out our hearts to God and remove whatever distractions are keeping us from him.

The Lenten season is often perceived as a time to re-start one’s New Year’s resolutions. It has been a time for people to give up sweets, stop drinking coffee, pick up a new book or hit the gym a few times a week. While these are all admirable pursuits, these actions by themselves do not allow us to live up to the full mission of the Lenten journey. Returning to the words of the prophet Joel – to rend our hearts and not our garments – one aspect of our mission is to make sacrifices that are not showy, knowing that our God will see them.

Ask for strength

In this way, we embrace the mission and purpose of Lent: We pray, we fast and we give alms.

When we speak to God in prayer, we are fostering the relationship with him that he so desires to have with us. Prayer during Lent also means asking God for the gifts of the Holy Spirit – asking for the strength and courage to be as Jesus was and do as Jesus did.

Fasting from food and drink strengthens us as disciples, and calls to mind when the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert where he fasted and prayed for 40 days. In the same way that Jesus prayed to his Father in solitude for those 40 days, let us try to loosen our attachment to worldly desires and distractions during this season so we can hear the Father’s voice beckoning.

Be present for someone

A sometimes overlooked feature of Lent is almsgiving, and this one is simpler than you may think. It means to be charitable. God does not ask us to give what we do not have; charity does not always mean giving money or food. Almsgiving can mean giving of your time or simply being present to someone. On Ash Wednesday of last year, Pope Francis said the following: “Almsgiving is not a hasty gesture performed to ease our conscience, to compensate for our interior imbalance; rather, it is a way of touching the sufferings of the poor with our own hands and heart.”

Each of us knows someone who could use a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on or even just a friend. Almsgiving can be just that – being present for someone who might need to see God in another person.

This Lenten season, let us strive to be kinder, more loving and more forgiving. And let us pray for the strength and fortitude to give a little bit more of ourselves to God and to others.

Isabella Pardino is a graduate of The Catholic University of America’s School of Theology and Religious Studies and is currently a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of Nursing.

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