You can thank the Christian tradition of Lent for the sudden rise of seafood and vegetarian menu options at restaurants, and fish fries hosted by Christian churches on Fridays. The fact that Christians abstain from meat on Fridays and give up something, such as chocolate or snacking, during the 40 day period of Lent (paralleling the 40 days Jesus spent and suffered in the desert before sacrificing himself for the salvation of all) easily attributes Lent with negative connotations. However, from my Christian/Catholic perspective, I find Lenten practices to be positive, in addition to impactful and healthy, ones that could resonate with a person of any belief. Pope Francis set a positive view of Lent in his homily given on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, through emphasizing Lent is a time to pause, see, and return.
The act of pausing serves as a way to meditate, gain clarity of mind, and banish negativity that life presses on us. Two segments of pausing Pope Francis shares:
- “Pause a little, leave behind the unrest and commotion that fill the soul with bitter feelings which never get us anywhere. Pause from this compulsion to a fast-paced life that scatters, divides and ultimately destroys time with family, with friends, with children, with grandparents, and time as a gift….”
- “Pause for a little while, refrain from the urge to want to control everything, know everything, destroy everything; this comes from overlooking gratitude for the gift of life and all the good we receive.”
The act of seeing allows one to observe the world around them purposefully, looking at both the bad and the wonderful good in life. Pope Francis shares:
- “See the gestures that prevent the extinguishing of charity, that keep the flame of faith and hope alive. Look at faces alive with God’s tenderness and goodness working in our midst.”
- “See the faces of our children and young people filled with yearning for the future and hope, filled with ‘tomorrows’ and opportunities that demand dedication and protection. Living shoots of love and life that always open up a path in the midst of our selfish and meagre calculations.”
When Pope Francis speaks of the crucified Jesus, he still encourages one to see and contemplate how Jesus died for all, no exceptions. Even through his own suffering, Jesus still keeps his arms open and outstretched while on the cross, and continues to reach out and offer hope to those who suffer:
- “See and contemplate the real face of Christ crucified out of love for everyone, without exception. For everyone? Yes, for everyone. To see his face is an invitation filled with hope for this Lenten time, in order to defeat the demons of distrust, apathy and resignation.
- “See and contemplate the face of Crucified Love, who today from the cross continues to bring us hope, his hand held out to those who feel crucified, who experience in their lives the burden of failure, disappointment and heartbreak.”
Then there is the joyful return, a time of renewed resolve and purpose. Pope Francis reminds us that there is never a time when one cannot be forgiven, return to Jesus, and return to peace:
- “Return without fear…. It is the time for allowing one’s heart to be touched… Persisting on the path of evil only gives rise to disappointment and sadness. True life is something quite distinct and our heart indeed knows this. God does not tire, nor will he tire, of holding out his hand (cf. Misericordiae Vultus, 19).”
- “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek 36:26).
Lent is a time for Christians to reach equilibrium with Jesus, and at the same time, find peace within themselves. Joy, rebirth, and renewed hope given through Jesus is the drive behind Lent. Any offerings given during Lent contribute to increased happiness when the 40 days have concluded, Jesus arises from the dead in his Resurrection, and the joyful season of Easter begins. Ultimately, I think at some point we all need a time, and an excuse, to pause, see, and return.