By Father Alex Fry
Special to The Texas Catholic
I love Lent. But it was not always like that. As a kid, my whole understanding of Lent was shaped by the commandment: Thou shalt give up something that you love.
And so, I gave up sodas or candy or hitting my brother, and when Lent ended, I would pick up where I left off. Of course, Lent is a season of penance and abstinence, but in my young mind, I had never bothered to ask why. Why do we do this yearly sad fest?
I think we are privileged in the English-speaking world to use the word “Lent” to denote this season. (In Latin languages, the name of the season is derived from quadragesima, which means fortieth.) However, “Lent” comes from the Old English word for “spring season.” Spring is a helpful analogy for the task ahead of us this Lent. Let me explain.
Last week, I drove past miles of vineyards in northern Italy. Despite the frigid temperatures, there were workers in every vineyard diligently pruning the vines.
Pruning is the annual task of cutting back the old and overgrown and the younger spur branches, leaving just the healthiest canes remaining. If left to grow wild, the vines would produce an excessive amount of grapes, and the fruit would fail to ripen adequately. Cutting back allows for a high-quality harvest.
Lent is a time of pruning, discarding our old sinful habits and our new curious distractions, in order to allow true virtuous habits and desires to grow well and to bear abundant fruit that will remain. It is a time of scaling back and slowing down, and returning to what is most important in our lives.
If we stretch the image a little more, we can see that pruning is not enough to bear good fruit. Just as a plant needs healthy soil, water, and sunlight, we too need the healthy soil of prayer, and the water of life and the light of the world that comes to us in the sacraments and in the Word of God. Lent is more than just giving something up; it is about receiving the grace we need to bear fruit into the world.
I look forward to Lent each year now that I know what it can be and how desperately I need it. It is a pruning time, a time to be renewed in His love, to be freed from sin, and to be strengthened by grace. And it is a time that ends with the glory of Easter, when we enjoy the victory won by Jesus Christ.
Let’s go into Lent this year with the joy and love proper to this season, knowing that the reason that we sacrifice is so that we might better share in the fruits of His redemption.
Father Alex Fry is a priest of the Diocese of Dallas currently studying in Rome.