After Ash Wenednesday Mass, we leave church with a desire “to repent and believe in the Gospel.” CNS photo/Katie Peterson

Lenten discipline lets Jesus lead us

By  Fr. Yaw Acheampong
  • February 16, 2023

What are your plans for Lent this year? 

It’s a popular question we ask each other when Lent is approaching. Just as we are settling into the season of Ordinary Time after our joyful celebration of Christmas season, Lent is upon us. The liturgical celebration of Ash Wednesday, with its ritual of the signing on our foreheads with ashes, leads us into Lent. This year, with most COVID restrictions removed, we can come together to celebrate it. 

After the Mass on Ash Wednesday we leave our churches with a renewed desire “to repent and to believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Lent is a time of reflection: a time to examine the state of our spiritual lives. But, we often think of Lent as an austere time symbolized by the absence of flowers around the altar in our churches. 

The seriousness of Lent makes us wonder how we can live so that our lives may reflect the nature of the season. Every Lent we usually plan to observe some spiritual practices, referred to as Lenten discipline. Traditionally, these practices are centred on prayer, fasting and charity (Matthew 6). We hope that our Lenten discipline may help us spiritually grow as we journey through Lent. 

However, after a few weeks into Lent, we may tend to lose interest in our plans. We may find it challenging to follow through our plans for Lenten discipline. 

So, how can we have a spirit-driven Lenten discipline? Our plans for our Lenten journey may be different from one person to another. What we plan to do in Lent depends on our understanding of Lent and its effect in our lives. Perhaps this Lent we can take a different approach to making our plans to observe the season. 

We can begin by reflecting on a couple of questions. Why do we plan to observe Lenten discipline, for example, to “give up” something we love, to attend Mass often, to spend more time praying with the Bible and to be charitable? How is the Lenten discipline going to sharpen our focus on the state of our spiritual lives? We need to realize that our Lenten discipline is not about our ability to control what we can do. It is more about our willingness and our desire to allow Jesus to lead us on our journey. 

This year, let us see Lent from a different perspective: We should not feel it is an obligation to “give up” something or to be charitable. Lent is the time that we “give up” something with joy for the sake of others. We “give up” something out of love.

As we are returning to our churches since the removal of the restrictions of the pandemic, several activities are taking place in our parishes. During Lent, parishes are preparing children to celebrate First Holy Communion and Confirmation. Parishes also have the opportunity to offer Lenten retreats and other spiritual activities. Lent is the time for our parishes’ outreach programs to help the needy. 

As parents, we are encouraged to “give up” our free time for the sake of our children. As parishioners we are encouraged to share our time and talent with others. We are encouraged to deepen our prayer life. These activities help us build our relationship with God and neighbour. 

Our Lenten discipline, done with a loving heart, also helps others to experience the presence of God in their lives. In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), the Pope writes: “Being Church means being God’s people, in accordance with the great plan for His fatherly love. This means that we are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way (114). 

St. Paul also tells us: “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). This year, let our Lenten discipline reflect our understanding of God’s love to us — our salvation — revealed in the death of His Son Jesus on the Cross. When we strive to observe our Lenten practices based on love, we deepen our love for God who provides a path of hope toward the celebration of Easter. 

(Fr. Yaw Acheampong is pastor of Our Lady of Peace in Etobicoke.)