The season of Lent is upon us. It begins on Ash Wednesday, February 22, and extends until the celebration of the Easter Vigil on Saturday, April 8. Lent is referred to as the springtime of the Church’s year and the liturgy refers to it as a joyful time. Indeed, Lent is a time of renewal in our spiritual lives, which brings us into a deeper relationship with the Lord and a deeper knowledge of ourselves.
Lent extends for a period of 40 days. It is an imitation of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert after His Baptism and before His public ministry. During these 40 days, Jesus fasted and prayed in an exclusive manner so that He could give Himself completely to His mission of our salvation. The foundation of those 40 days was His union, in prayer, with His Father. During Lent, we imitate the Lord in taking up practices of penance, and we also enter into a period of prayer to deepen our union with the Lord. No matter what we decide to do for Lent, it is prayer which is the foundation for us, as it was for Jesus.
It is interesting to know that while Lent is called the period of 40 days, there are actually 46 days to it. This is because the six Sundays of Lent are not considered penitential days, even though they are the most solemn days of Lent. No one is bound to observe the practices of sacrifice which they have taken up for Lent on Sunday. However, they are bound to enter into the spirit of Lent in the deepest way, especially in the celebration of the Sunday liturgy. The Day of the Lord, when the Eucharist is celebrated, brings us into union with the Lord in prayer as the center of the season. The scriptural readings for the Sunday Masses of Lent are focused in a particular manner on the merciful love of God for us. Indeed, while Sundays are not considered penitential days in Lent, their atmosphere of intense prayer reminds us that at the heart of prayer is listening to the Lord and coming to know Him more deeply.
No matter what we choose to do during the season of Lent, we do not do so for the sake of achievement, but for letting go of ourselves. We do not give up food and treats to lose weight, but to lose our very selves in Christ. What we do during Lent should not be so difficult as to make us proud, but not so small as to be forgetful of it. Again, it is prayer which is essential to our practices and through the entire season. Our prayer is more than words, more than saying the words of the Rosary, more than the words of the Stations of the Cross and even more than are our words at Mass. Our prayer means, even in the face of distractions and dryness, entering into the presence of God within our hearts so that we not only speak to Him but so that He can speak to us. We do this most intimately in the celebration of the Eucharist and in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Silence is a central aspect of our prayer. Pope Francis continually reminds us that prayer is much more than the repetition of words, as he refers to Jesus’ words: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think they will be heard because of their many words” (Mt 6:7). It is our hearts speaking to the Lord and listening to His response.
We live in a very noisy world, with distractions all around us at all times. Just through our mobile phones we get instant news, text messages and emails, and we are immediately available to all who wish to contact us. While this can be good, it can also keep us from a silence which is essential to who we are as human persons made by God. We need to hear the voice of God, as well as our own, in a world where everyone is telling us what to think and how to interpret what is before us. Pope Benedict XVI wisely expressed, “Silence is not an absence. On the contrary, it is a manifestation of a presence, the most intense of all presences. In modern society, silence has come into disrepute; this is the symptom of a serious, worrisome illness. The real questions of life are posed in silence. Our blood flows through our veins without making any noise, and we can hear our heartbeats only in silence.” In the words of St. Teresa of Calcutta, “God is the friend of silence.”
As we enter into the joyful springtime of the Church’s year, let us do so in imitation of the Lord’s 40 days in the desert. Let us take up practices, not simply for the sake of taking them up, but for the sake of deepening our relationship with the Lord. Let us always concentrate on that relationship during these 40 days, as Jesus did with His Father in the desert, and may prayer be the root of our Lent which leads beyond 40 days.
A blessed Lenten season to all.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
February 17, 2023