Now that the penitential season of Lent has begun I find myself overjoyed (yes, that’s right, overjoyed) with the prospect of yet another opportunity to deepen my prayer life and increase my service to God and His people. Lent is, by far, my favorite season of the Church’s liturgical calendar, which may seem a bit self-abasing with its penitential tone and austere traditions. But it’s a special time of year when the Church invites us to slow down and really make time to reflect on our faith lives and work toward a change of heart that will lead us closer to God.
When I was a little girl, my perception of Lent was not quite as rich, what with the notion of praying and abstaining from or “giving up” something of value to me. Though the significance of developing my self-discipline was not lost on me, even as a child, what has increased in me as I have grown into adulthood is the awareness of where these practices lead me — straight into the arms of Jesus.
Just as I developed my aplomb in the physical realm as a maturing adult, I had the good fortune to learn confidence in my faith life as well. So as I settle into the practice of Lent this year I am drawn into the tradition of season.
Beginning with the solemn service of Ash Wednesday when we symbolically face our own mortality by receiving an ashen cross upon our foreheads, Lent promises a time of reflection and renewal. What more can we ask for in our search for the joy of Eastertide?
As these 40 days stretch out before us the Church faithful unite in preparation for the celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday. But the journey takes a solitary turn here and there where each must find the personal practice that will lead to the goal — a deeper relationship with Christ.
Interestingly, the number 40 (as in 40 days of Lent) has been associated with several events found in the Bible. However, the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness recorded in Matthew 4:1 — those 40 days preceding the undertaking of His ministry in which our Lord fasted and prayed — resonates most within my heart. So much symbolism speaks of my daily search for holiness.
The vast and intimidating nature of Lent lends itself to inner turmoil for many but thankfully the Catholic Church has traditionally upheld three pillars of Lent to assist us with our pursuit. We are to look to prayer, fasting and almsgiving, to guide us on our journey to God. Each pillar, I have learned, provides a wealth of symbolic and material instruction on making a meaningful Lent.
Take prayer for instance. As a Catholic how can we draw nearer to God as we live out our lives in this somewhat confusing secular world? As a child I learned to “stay in touch” with my Creator through prayer. Then my prayers were those of innocent petition. Now after living a few years in the school of hard knocks I have learned to pray on a deeper level where God is not only my savior, but also my friend and confidante.
I try always to begin my prayer with the sign of the cross to remind myself in whose presence I enter — the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is a gesture that roots me in my baptism and marks me as a follower of Christ.
The joy of God’s presence leads me to praise and thanksgiving and, of course, contrition. During the 40 days of Lent I recommit to daily self-examination, asking God to shine His light on the darkness of my heart. It’s only when I can see my hardheartedness that I can commit to changing my thoughts and behaviors to serve Him better.
When we pray we acknowledge our natural dependence on God and I’m so grateful that there are so many deeply moving ways to pray. We pray with our bodies, with folded hands on bended knee. We pray with our minds with praise and supplication, and with our spirits when we sit in silence to hear God’s whisper in our hearts.
We can pray the traditional Catholic prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer or the recitation of the rosary. Silent prayer in Eucharistic Adoration or communal prayer at Mass or the Stations of the Cross may fill our hearts during Lent. I could go on and on. But what is most important is that we find a prayer practice that works to bring us closer to God.
I’ve learned that God doesn’t need my prayer, though He desires it — but I do. Communication is the way to deepen any relationship. Prayer strengthens my faith connection and those disciplines that bring me closer to Him. So let’s begin our Lenten prayer today by asking God to show us how He would like us to go about making this Lent a meaningful journey to Him.
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