We have arrived at this holy season of Lent. Many of us may say this with a sigh, recalling past penitential Lenten seasons and the sacrifices we have made. Perhaps we don’t look fondly upon this season, but as with most things in life, they are what we make them. In my homily today I’m hoping to change our way of thinking regarding this season. I hope this column can also change attitudes to a more positive view of Lent.
In my preparation for a homily, I typically read a few Bible commentaries and let them work on me for a while. The commentary I focused on today is from Preaching the New Lectionary, authored by Dianne Bergant. In her section on the readings for this First Sunday of Lent, she states; “For too long we have thought that Lent is a time for us to sacrifice our wants and our desires, to give up things in order to devote ourselves to God. The readings for today and for all of the Sundays of Lent show us that, in a sense, the opposite is true. This is not a time for us to deny ourselves of something, but a time to receive. We are not the ones who are meant to accomplish great things for God. Rather, it is God who acts; it is God who makes the sacrifice; it is God who accomplishes great things for us.”
I believe Dianne Bergant hits the nail on the head! All too often we seem to grudgingly “give up” something for Lent, only to make those around us miserable. I recall when, as a young man, I decided to give up sweets for Lent. Having been raised with a loving mother who baked homemade sweets that we consumed after every meal but breakfast, you can imagine the struggle I encountered with the lack of sugar! After a few days of this, being very crabby and irritable, my mother laid down the law and told me the only ones who were sacrificing were her and the other members of my family. Wow, what a reality check! It was a lesson learned and I believe we can apply this lesson today. It’s not a bad thing to sacrifice, if we truly hunger more for God and seek Him in prayer. But perhaps our focus should be more on receiving the gift, the pure gift, that God has given us. God gives us His grace lovingly and freely. We need to accept this gift. That’s it. Sounds too simple to be true, but it is.
Perhaps we can focus on receiving God’s gift this Lent. And through our acceptance of it, a profound change will occur within us. Oh, and just so you know, I do eat less sweets these days.