Let me say right off the bat that I have never liked the season of Lent. I’ve been a priest for almost 40 years, and I should know better. Yet I still dread the buzzkill of Ash Wednesday.
It’s not the traditional practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that I mind so much. The traditional practices of Lent have helped Christians prepare for Easter for close to two millennia, so I’m okay with taking up these things in a special way this time of year.
About fasting: don’t for a minute think I’m going to tell you NOT to give up something during Lent. I’m sure there’s a bad habit or two sitting in your pocket right now that you can give up for the duration, if not longer. I’ve got about an even dozen I can pick from.
Here’s the thing that bugs me about Lent: it’s that it constantly reminds me of my death. Not death in general, but my death. Yes, I know for a fact that I’m going to die (and so are you), but do I have to be regularly reminded about it for six long weeks? It feels as if Lent takes a necessary but unpleasant truth and sticks it in my face. Really? Is that necessary?
The short answer is yes. Stepping back a little, I admit I need to be reminded that I very definitely am going to die, and the sooner I get used to the idea – well, actually the reality – the sooner Lent will stop feeling so pushy. Also, there’s a nagging suspicion in the back of my head that says the more I feel comfortable with death, the more I’ll feel comfortable with heaven. Lent doesn’t prepare us for Good Friday; it’s Easter Sunday. Death doesn’t have the final say. Jesus is risen! Once I focus more on that truth, I can say, “Come on, Lent; do your thing!” Or as St. Paul said much more eloquently, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55)
This year I took a deep breath before Ash Wednesday and prepared myself for another go-round with Lent. But somehow this year Lent doesn’t seem quite so bad. Perhaps I’m finally wising up to the inevitability of Lent reminding me of my death once again. Or maybe these past two years of the pandemic have seemed like one long Lenten journey. We’ve done a lot of “giving up” of what used to be taken for granted, and many of us have grown accustomed to facing the realities of suffering and death. This year may be a turning point in the way I think about Lent. What about you?
This article originally appeared in the spring 2022 edition of The Vincentian, a quarterly newsletter by the Congregation of the Mission Western Province.