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February 19, 2015

The season of Lent and our Journey to the Cross begins on Ash Wednesday and continues for the forty days before Easter. Sundays are not counted in the forty days because Sunday is the day of Resurrection

Lent is a season of soul-searching and repentance. It is a time for reflection and self-examination. Lent originated in the early Church as a time of preparation for Easter. It was the time faithful Christians rededicated themselves as followers of Christ. New converts to Christianity were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism on Easter Sunday.

By observing the forty days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days at the beginning of His ministry. It is a time of spiritual discipline accompanied by fasting and prayer.

The idea of giving up something for Lent is derived from the customary practice of abstaining from meat. It is not a time of physical starvation or dehydration. It is rather a time of self-denial and self-emptying.

Giving up something for Lent has sometimes been trivialized. Is deciding not to eat watermelon or Brussel sprouts really a sacrifice in February, March, and April? Will giving up coffee or chocolate help you become a better Christian?

One year I gave up nothing at all for Lent. Then I decided that I needed a post-Lenten fast. I went on a media fast. I watched no TV, did not read the newspaper, and did not listen to the radio for one month. This occurred before the advent of cell phones and computers. I read nothing that had been written more recently the 150 years earlier. Clare would want me to add that this was not only after Lent, but it was also after the NCAA basketball tournament. When the media fast was over I found I had missed very little news.

There are things in our lives that we do need to give up. Prejudice, hatred, bitterness, arrogance – any of the things that alienate us from God and other people – these are the things to relinquish during Lent.

Maybe what we need most is not to give up something. Maybe we need instead to give to others. The prophet Isaiah said,

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?

(Isaiah 58:6-7)

To follow the wisdom of Isaiah is much more difficult than giving up watermelon, coffee, chocolate, or media. But it is far more enriching to the human spirit, ours and theirs.

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