By Father Jacob Dankasa
Special to The Texas Catholic
You are probably reading this article because you read the title, and you wonder why a priest would not believe in Lent. Well, gotcha! That’s exactly what I wanted you to do. Yes, I want you to read this article because I want you to know exactly how I feel — I want you to know how much I believe in and love Lent, and I want you to know how much I wish that no one would say “I don’t believe in Lent.”
I love Lent not because I fast for all the forty days of Lent. I love Lent not because I pray twenty-four hours a day during Lent. I love Lent not because I give alms to everyone I see every day of the forty days of Lent. But I love Lent because the season reminds me to do all these things — Lent encourages me to try to learn how to practice abstinence, how to pray and how to give alms.
I love Lent because the practice of abstinence (fasting) in Lent does not simply cause me to abstain from food and enter into starvation mode. Rather, Lent helps me to work harder on my spiritual life and practice fasting from bad habits and behaviors. The season helps me to learn to live in moderation. Sometimes we take too much enjoyment in the things we love most. For some, it’s food; for some, it’s pleasure; for others, it’s vulgarity. Lent is a season that reminds us to work on moderating our excesses in these areas and in many other everyday habits; it helps us learn to control our passions. When we fast in Lent, we don’t just abstain from food. We abstain from anything that distracts us from God so that we can emerge at Easter as Christians better-equipped for the long term. Of course, fasting is great. But for it to be valuable it must lead the person who fasts to a true conversion — to becoming a better person, to giving up bad habits and behaviors. Only then we can truly receive grace and reap the benefits of fasting. When we fast in Lent, we must also avoid sin, as it does not glorify God. We should also plan not to pick up the same sin again after Lent, so that we can learn how to live without the sin beyond Lent.
I love Lent because it reminds me that I need to take my prayer life seriously. The activities of Lent — stations of the cross, Lenten missions, the Triduum, and even the parish fish fry — only make sense if they remind me that my conversation with God in prayer is an important part of my life that needs to be lived and practiced every day, not just in the forty days of Lent.
I love Lent because it reminds me that there are many other people living around me and in my community, and I need to be aware of them. It reminds me that just as I desire care for myself, I need to remember many who also need my care — the poor, the homeless, the hungry, and all those in need. Lent reminds me of the virtues of charity and generosity, and it reminds me of the need for almsgiving. In Lent I’m reminded to be conscious of my environment, of “our needs” not “my needs” alone.
Oh, how much I love Lent! You can see why I love Lent — not because I have succeeded in living all the virtues of Lent, but because it makes me want to try harder to do just that. Sometimes I wish that Lent would stay forever so that I could continue to be reminded of the three great practices of the season: fasting (abstinence), prayer and almsgiving. Sadly, we often forget these practices as soon as Lent is over, and we pick up our bad habits where we left them prior to Lent.
Remember, for Lent to remain meaningful and for us to reap the blessings of Lent, these practices must continue far beyond the forty days of Lent. Lent must, in a sense, be a life journey. It should help us practice what we should do and how we can live beyond Lent. Let us open our hearts for the spirit of Lent to stir us into action for a true conversion of heart.
Regardless of how much we fail to continue the practices of Lent beyond Lent, we should approach the season each year with renewed confidence and a desire to change. We shouldn’t give up on Lent simply because we haven’t attained a true and lasting conversion in the past. This may be your year!
And as we have just marked another Ash Wednesday, I encourage you NOT to say, “I don’t believe in Lent.”
Father Jacob Dankasa is pastoral administrator of Holy Family of Nazareth Catholic Church in Irving.