The time has come once again when we are to keep the curtains and blinds closed, and make sure our daily wardrobe features nothing but black.
Yes, we now tap into our Spotify and iTunes, searching for music under the heading of “unhappy” or “feeling the blues.”
Just as we prepare to turn our clocks ahead in early March and look forward to more sun to brighten our days, we ready ourselves to feel depressed for the next six-plus weeks.
Certainly, that could be the public perception of this holy season, but must Lent truly be a period of sadness?
Should all this fasting, giving of self to others and prayer time be a cause for pain?
While some may contend the Church is strict and seeks to punish its members by making life unbearable, practices such as Lent are not at all intended to be experiences of misery.
In fact, much like a diet aims to improve one’s health, Lent is observed in order to help restore us as the pure and perfect creations we were made to be by our Almighty Creator. With this in mind, why would anyone feel like Lent is to be a time of dejection or melancholy?
A Time of Preparation
Before entering the vocation of teaching, I worked with various sports organizations. While serving as a media relations staffer for a Major League Baseball team, I always enjoyed the optimism in the air during spring training.
Reciting the popular refrain “hope springs eternal,” players and personnel would carry an extra bounce in their step, excited for the prospects of the season ahead.
We can view Lent as a sort of training camp, then, rather than a boot camp. While there will be exercise and a focus on fundamentals, such application is designed to build us, not punish us.
As Cardinal Timothy Dolan said at his inaugural Ash Wednesday Mass in 2012 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York:
“Lent is spiritual spring training—we get the flab out, we get the sins out. Our fight is not against the Red Sox or the Cardinals; it’s against Satan and sin and selfishness.”
Just as ballplayers are put through their paces during spring training in order to prepare for the rigors of a long season, we as Catholics undertake perhaps uncomfortable or demanding routines during Lent as opportunity to cleanse ourselves of any unhealthy elements. After all, if we are to experience the exhilaration of a championship in the form of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday, we must sharpen ourselves in order to withstand the temptations of the devil along the way.
Any athlete will attest the glory of victory comes after sacrifice, making their accomplishment all the more worthwhile. As Good Friday precedes Easter Sunday, we journey through the desert with Jesus for forty days during Lent in order to appreciate more his grace, unconditional love, and invitation to be with him in Paradise.
The Pros Outweigh the Cons
Sure, forty days might seem like a long time to go without chocolate and we could find it challenging to set aside prayer time with that consistency.
Yet, the benefits of filling ourselves with Christ far outweigh the inconvenience of such struggles:
“Lent is like a long retreat during which we can turn back into ourselves and listen to the voice of God, in order to defeat the temptations of the Evil One.“Pope Benedict XVI
Knowing this, we do not need to dwell on the difficulty of Lent. Instead, we can celebrate the campaign as a time preparing us to become more like Jesus, saved through his conquering of death.
“A Christian is never bored or sad. Rather, the one who loves Christ is full of joy and radiates joy.”Pope Francis
If we allow ourselves, this Lenten season can provide us with the blessed fruit of the Holy Spirit, offering us love, joy, peace and deeper faith.
So, while we do not necessarily need to blast off a bunch of fireworks as we journey through Lent this year, let us not live a life of doom and gloom, either.
Through our sacrifice, our concern for others and our talking with the Lord, these next six weeks can lead us to a more enriched life, filled with purpose and happiness.
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Matt Charbonneau is a high school religious education teacher who inspires his students to explore a deeper relationship with God. Applying uplifting lessons, engaging activities and insightful experiences, he strives to demonstrate the powerful presence and unconditional love of God in everyday life. For more of Matt’s writing, visit God’s Giveaways at www.mattcharbonneau.com.