What is Lent?

We are in the midst of Lent right now. In 2012, the Catholic liturgical calendar has the dates of Lent for between February 22 and April 5. Lent takes place from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday (part of Holy Week) each year. The main purpose of Lent is to prepare believers ahead of Easter. The idea is to give up certain things as a show of penitence, or as a way to break bad habits. Lent can even be about improving yourself in some way to grow closer to God.

Origins of Lent

Stories in the New Testament indicate that Jesus, prior to beginning his ministry, spent 40 days fasting in the desert. He was tempted by Satan at the end of this period — and he resisted. As a result, many religions observe Lent as 40 days. In most traditions, the Sundays during Lent aren’t considered part of the 40 days, since they are supposed to be observed days of piety anyway, celebrating the triumph of Jesus Christ over sin and death.

Lent is well-known even among non-Catholics. Indeed, many Protestants observe Lent as well. And, even if you aren’t part of a religion that celebrates Lent, it’s not a bad thing to take some time to look at your life and make positive changes.

Is Lent Really Just about Giving Something Up?

Many people associate Lent with fasting, or giving up some sort of food that they really enjoy. There are many traditions around the world, from Ramadan to Yom Kippur and various fasting practices in Buddhism and other world religious, that focus on drawing spiritual strength from denial. However, Lent doesn’t have to be just about giving up some type of food. A great Lenten resolution flow chart offers some insight into deciding what to give up for Lent:

As you can see, it doesn’t have to be about food. Indeed, you can give up other bad habits in your life. Look at some of your practices and behaviors. Could some of them be improved? Could you gossip less? Could you control your temper better? Look at what is holding you back spiritually.

Lent doesn’t even have to be about giving something up. You can increase your spirituality and faithfulness during Lent by improving your relationship with God. Increase your scripture study, or find more room in your life for silence. I really like how the flow chart above tries to get you to focus on your relationship with God during Lent, instead of simply making it about food. For those looking to boost their spirituality, the idea of Lent can be a very helpful one.

Three basic practices during Lent include:

  1. Justice toward God with prayer
  2. Justice toward self with fasting
  3. Justice toward neighbor with almsgiving

Lent can be a time to renew your faith, and improve your spiritual practice. Hopefully, the bad habits discarded — or the good habits acquired — during Lent will carry on throughout the year. While you don’t need an event like Lent to help you improve yourself, such observances can help you kickstart better habits.

Do you observe Lent? What are you doing in observance?

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