Why Lent Is So Important

by Paul on February 13, 2013

We’ve shared some ideas for observing Lent, but why is Lent so important to us? I share a few ideas in this video and invite you to help me answer this question.

Come back next Wednesday for another video in which I address Lenten themes.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Lynda February 13, 2013 at 1:45 pm

When I was working, I would notice every Lent that people would ask me what I was doing for Lent and then they would share what they were giving up. These good people didn’t attend church, except perhaps on Christmas Eve, but I think that they enjoyed the sense of community received through working on improving themselves together with others. They received a sense of accomplishment and a self-discipline that they might not have without the community. I also found it a very interesting phenomenon.

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Paul February 14, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Lynda,

I’m still running to catch up from being away so I’m sorry (to you and to everyone) that my response comes so late.

Your notion that Lent is tied in with the sense of community is very interesting to me, especially since – with everyone clicking away on smart phones – it often seems as if people are trying to avoid actual community.

Paul

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Linda Ricke February 13, 2013 at 1:48 pm

I think it is the chance for a “fresh start.” Lent reminds us that we are not going to be here forever and gives us a reminder to clean up our act. This season ends with the miracle of rebirth. It gives us hope of starting over and getting it right. I, too am puzzled over the practice of those who shun the Church, but give up something for Lent.

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Paul February 14, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Linda,

We in North America are big into the “fresh start,” aren’t we? We talk about “reinventing ourselves,” but my experience is that my old self stubbornly resists any real reinvention.

Paul

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Paula February 13, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Lent is dark and gloomy part of year to basically clean out the attic and get rid of bad thoughts.To look at many people and see how unhappy many how..and figure out how to make them happy. To help people carry on a conversation without bragging about themselves or myself. To say prayers to help the world have peace and get along with everyone.To think what Jesus has done for us, all the teasing and bullying he was put through in such a young life!!So when Easter does come 40 days from now we can rejoice and try to dress up and be like Jesus everyday.

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Paul February 14, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Paula,

I would love to “get rid of bad thoughts.” If you have a method that works, share it with me/us.

Paul

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Tim February 13, 2013 at 2:35 pm

I have come to know and appreciate that Lent is supposed to be about penance, abstinence and almsgiving. We are supposed to take this time to recognize those activities in our lives that may have turned us on the wrong path towards God and reflect on what we need to do to get back on the right path.

Perhaps when we reflect back on what we are abstaining from and why, when we look back on the times we helped others, we may all learn not only to appreciate the values of others and what we have taken for granted, but we may learn something about ourselves. Maybe after all of this, maybe, just maybe, we can start getting back on the right path.

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Paul February 14, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Tim,

You wrote, “when we look back on the times we helped others, we may all learn not only to appreciate the values of others and what we have taken for granted, but we may learn something about ourselves.”

Yes. Yes. Yes. For myself, I know that one of my major tasks, and not just in Lent, is to learn to appreciate what I have taken for granted.

Paul

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Andie February 13, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Why is lent so important? Well, for many of us it brings back vivid childhood memories. You are right, the ashes, the ‘giving things up’, we all fall into those traps. But, there comes a time when we must move beyond empty rituals and go a bit deeper. And in that regard, there are no hard and fast rules for lent. Just a willingness to journey within and to meet and spend some quiet time there with Christ.

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Paul February 14, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Andie,

I will now pray for a “willingness to journey within and to meet and spend some quiet time there with Christ.” What a great Lenten prayer. Thank you.

Paul

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Jim February 13, 2013 at 4:34 pm

I agree with Linda about people seeing Lent as a chance for a “fresh start.” That’s always been part of the appeal for me, anyway.

For one thing, it’s kind of like New Year’s, but with a full 40 days where you’re committed to following through.

For another, it’s an aspect of Catholicism that inherently extends beyond Mass. People want their religion to infuse their daily lives. They want to be deeply moved and changed by it. Lent is an explicit invitation to live as though your life mattered so much that the Son of God would willingly suffer and die for it. The birth of Jesus is a happy, uplifting thing to celebrate, but it’s the death of Jesus that lends cosmic significance to our seemingly insignificant lives. (It probably helps that Easter isn’t the smashing commercial success that Christmas is.)

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Paul February 14, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Jim,

Oh, yes. Thank God, and I mean, thank God that Easter has not been as commercialized as Christmas. It would be unbearable.

Paul

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Denise J February 13, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Here in the U.S., I think choosing what to do for Lent appeals to a strong American sense of individuality and independence. It doesn’t surprise me that people who aren’t members of a community like participating in this season’s ritual practices, which are mostly private.

Maybe, also, the fact that we are only talking about a 40 day commitment is a draw. For some of us, Lent doesn’t seem to demand a life-long change in behavior — it’s just 7 weeks of spiritual boot camp. At the end, life can return to normal, and we can feel better about ourselves for having done some good for ourselves and others for a little while.

I agree with other posters that the connections to childhood are important. Kids don’t usually get to choose how they will participate in church customs, or to think something they are doing — like giving something sweets — is as important as what the grown-ups are doing.

For me, I know that in years when I have been less observant of Lent, it’s been harder to really celebrate Easter. Lent is an invitation to grow closer to God through prayer, controlling my appetites, and greater generosity. If I pass up that invitation, I am less able to experience all the joy and hope of the resurrection.

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Paul February 14, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Denise,

“For some of us, Lent doesn’t seem to demand a life-long change in behavior — it’s just 7 weeks of spiritual boot camp.” Exactly what I’m talking about in the next video!

Paul

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Michelle February 13, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Tradition!! That’s the line that ran through me head first, have to say.

But at least for me, it’s a good time to sink into God, to stretch my roots reach deeper, and drink, drink from the richness of the earth. It’s probably no wonder I prefer the “old” formula, even with the less than inclusive language: “Remember man that you are dust and unto to dust you shall return.”

No ashes for me today, first time that I can ever remember, but my teaching schedule sits right on top of all the services here and the retreat center I spent the night at didn’t have a service until long after I had left this morning. A dozen Jesuits in the dining room when I had breakfast, and I can’t find ashes??! Irony!

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annette February 13, 2013 at 7:37 pm

I agree that without a proper Lent there is les Easter for me too.

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Paul February 14, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Michelle,

Irony? Perhaps! In my community, we have Mass and dinner in the evening so I go around all day without ashes and only get them in the evening at home when only the other members of my community can see the “witness.”

Paul

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Michelle February 14, 2013 at 6:10 pm

I did think about the symbolism of having a “washed face” in public this year….

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annette February 13, 2013 at 7:35 pm

I actually started blogging to revive a group we had in college which was called “Lent Thing” (thus the name of my Lenten blog). The point was initially to gather my friends who I had that spiritual relationship with back into a sharing conversation. But it grew into something else entirely. My friends do follow it, and now several look forward to it, because it does mark a special (perhaps even sacred) time in our friendship. But I have also always been enriched by Lent.

I agree with the idea of community being important to it too. I think the greater society responds to it primarily because it is openly acceptable at this particular time to be somewhat religious. It is encouraged everywhere. We are all spiritual creatures, and I think that many people who left organized religion didn’t necessarily leave their faith. This can be an open opportunity to assess or reflect on where one is, so if you are shy or self-concious about believing in any way, it allows you to be more one of the crowd…you can blend. We like seasons…we celebrate life in seasons. Lent is another season and it bridges us from the muck of late winter into the freshness of Spring.

But, I will add to that, that I am comforted in being reminded of my littleness in this season. I am comforted that my body will return to ashes. It is odd and inexplicable, but it is how I feel. Perhaps I am reassured that I will return from whence I came? Don’t know.

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Paul February 14, 2013 at 6:07 pm

Annette,

I do not find it odd that you are “comforted that my body will return to ashes.” When I receive the ashes at the beginning of Lent, it reminds me of who I am and why I am here on Earth.

Paul

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Dolly February 13, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Lent allows me to get into a deeper meaning of Jesus being “the Word become flesh.” It is a sacrament (to me) in the sense that all my senses of sight, hearing, smell and touch become alive in the water, bread, oil and wine….even ashes. Through all these, I seem to have a real contact with Christ in his mysteries that happened 2000 years ago. And like what a dear friend has powerfully put it, “Ashes= marked as mortal, recalled to repentance, signed as God’s own beloved sons and daughters, labeled for love, smudged for service!”

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Paul February 14, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Dolly,

Your dear friend has quite the way with words! Powerful! Thank you.

Paul

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Jane February 14, 2013 at 12:28 am

I loved each of these reflections on Lent. Thank you everyone!

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Paul February 14, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Jane,

I will join my thanks to yours, if I may.

Paul

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Simon February 14, 2013 at 11:30 am

I’m afraid I don’t “know” the answer am glad for the insights everyone else provides. I experienced the “you are dust and unto dust….” version too – always very sobering but I don’t find it as alarming now that I am older compared to hearing it as a child. The Church scared me witless when I was little.

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Paul February 14, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Simon,

Poor you – it must have been awful to be scared witless when you were young. Happily, my parents had a very healthy skepticism about the Church which I think saved me from a lot of bother.

Paul

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claire February 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Lent for me is a holy journey toward Resurrection morning and the encounter with the Risen One. It is a pilgrimage of love with the Beloved, the promise of an encounter when my heart and soul will melt in the presence of the Other. It can be quite a passionate journey and I am always surprised by its intensity.

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Paul February 14, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Claire,

“A pilgrimage of love.” How beautiful.

Paul

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Emma February 16, 2013 at 4:47 am

This probably sounds a little off track, but in some way I think that during Lent we become stand -ins for God. There’s a sort of cosmic wrestling match between the supernatural forces of good and evil during Lent. So many, whether religious or not, desire good and side with love. They may not be consciously aware of it, but it’s there nonetheless. The first two books of Job set the stage for Lenten Observance. The wager placed between God and Satan on Job is carried on in our Lenten sacrifices and service. When we succeed, it’s not so much that we gain anything as much as that we’ve stood for God. We do so for love. Some do so unaware, drawn to God yet not naming Him. Cosmic forces at play :)

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Carol February 27, 2013 at 2:04 am

Generally speaking, I’m fairly religious, but Lent is a whole different matter. This is the time of year when I do the spring-cleaning of my soul. I get to pause and reflect more, get to look at the built-up detritus and cobwebs of my shortcomings in the year past, and examine them, the same way I get to clean out the spare room, throw the windows open, and rent the carpet shampooer. It’s a deeper process than a weekly housecleaning. My daily examen becomes more significant, my lectio divina is done at a slower and more savory pace, and I become more attuned to listening and looking for God’s presence in my life.

People have always used the lengthening days and the improving weather to get rid of the clutter and bad smells that surrounded their physical environment and worsened during the course of the long winter: Up here in the northern hemisphere, attuning oneself to the season of work, sacrifice, and prayer just seems to make sense on a very primal level.

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