This Wednesday, Catholics throughout the world will begin our great period of penance, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is modeled after Jesus Christ’s 40 days in the desert. The Gospel of Matthew relates, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil and he fasted forty days and forty nights" (Matthew 4:1-2). During this time, Jesus prepared himself through these actions to embrace his mission as savior. And so too, we enter into our own 40 days in the desert with the intention of removing that which is an obstacle to our relationship with God and embracing that which makes us more Christ-like in our lives.
As Catholics, there are certain requirements as well as suggested practices that we observe during Lent. First, the requirements: Fasting and abstinence from eating meat. Catholics who are over the age of 14 are required to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all Fridays during Lent.
All Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting, in this case is defined by the United State Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as “When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal.” If a person has a medical condition that necessitates eating, such as diabetes, that would be permitted along with medications. These are the minimum requirements for all of us Catholics during the season of Lent. There are, also, areas of recommendations to engage Lent in deeper spiritual way. This would be the common practice of making an extra penance and extra prayers during the season of Lent. For example, it is recommended that Catholics “give up” something that is pleasurable for Lent. This helps the person enter into the spiritual desert with Jesus as well as helps us to order that pleasure. For example, a person may enjoy eating White Castle and while White Castle is very tasty, by sacrificing White Castle for Lent, the person is reminded that all we truly need for ultimate happiness is the love of God, just as Jesus relied only on the love of God during his time in the desert. So it is highly encouraged for Catholics to make an additional sacrifice during Lent.
It is also recommended to add more prayer to the season of Lent. While Catholics should respond to the statement from St. Paul that says we ought to “pray without ceasing” (1 Theselonians 5:17, which I will write about in a later article), we ought to increase our prayer life in some way so that we deepen our relationship with God who is are beginning and our end.
As you prepare for Lent, I pray that you make it a spiritual journey with our Lord that deepens your love for Him who is our savior and our life.