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Does that count?

Raised the fifth of six children in an Irish/German household, I am both highly familiar with guilt, but also highly organized by it.  Growing up, we all announced what action or item one was giving up for Lent.  We also, therefore, righteously guarded each other’s social and external practice of penance.  The reality is, all too often, we tended to skip over one’s individual and internal practices.   It seems to me that the penitential season of prayer called Lent is a good time to refocus what we, as individuals and as a Christian community are actually doing in regards to preparing to receive God’s grace.

Lent is first and foremost a season of prayerful preparation; starting with Ash Wednesday and continuing until Holy Saturday.  Lent extends for a period of forty days, exclusive of Sundays, as fasting and penance never occur on the Lord’s Day. These forty days are grounded in the temptation of Jesus in the desert.  The prayer places us in a position to better receive the graces Christ has earned by His Passion and Death, and therefore ultimately, His Resurrection by looking at the temptations in our own lives. There is then, a two-fold aspect to the season.  One is to perform penance; hence giving something up, and two, to recall or prepare for Baptism.

The penitential aspect traditionally was done through fasting.  However, more recently, the Church teaches that these practices should be adapted in light of culture, circumstances, and situations of various regions and peoples.  Penances are to stress the theme of the Passion and to highlight the consequences of sin; especially demonstrating that sin is offensive to the God who loves unconditionally. One newer theological practice that has arisen recently, is the idea of adding something rather than giving something up; while it is true that those external and social practices do call us to almsgiving and acts of charity, these can only take place through penitential practices which are first internal and individual.  In other words, the Passion of Christ must take place before the Resurrection of Christ.

The second aspect of the season is recalling one’s Baptism or preparing for one’s Baptism.  The Lenten Liturgy reminds us to deepen the sense of our human condition as baptized people.  This baptismal grace renews us by newness of life and strengthens us against any compromise with evil. We are called into community of life and responsibility with our sisters and brothers and become oriented toward Christ.  We are mindful of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit as the One who leads and guides us in prayer.  This commitment, made individually, connects us all collectively into the entire Mystical Body of Christ.

Lent as a season of penance, allows for the continued growth of the community.  We become aware and more mindful of where we have been, and therefore where we are moving.  We sacrifice pleasures to remind ourselves that Jesus gave His life for us. These penances are strengthened in our baptismal dignity and the inner conversion to God.  It truly is a season which points us towards Easter.

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