How My Idea of Lent Has Changed

by | Feb 23, 2022 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change

A quick answer… I never used to think about Lent until Ash Wednesday and the ritual of receiving ashes. More about that later.

My earliest recollection of Lent is that I wanted it to be over.

It was hard for someone who had barely reached what we call the age of reason to think about death symbolized by ashes… especially when your birthday fell on Good Friday!

Lost traditions of Ash Wednesday

Now each Ash Wednesday I think of the contrast between what we do, proudly wearing our ashes all day, and what Jesus said about hypocrites parading piety publicly.

Seminary training and the liturgical vision of Vatican II alerted me to how much had changed from the earliest celebrations of Lent.

It was the practice in Rome for some eight centuries for serious penitents to begin their period of public penance on the first day of Lent in preparation for their restoration to the sacrament of the EucharistThey were sprinkled with ashes, dressed in sackcloth, and obliged to remain apart until they were reconciled with the Christian community on the Thursday before Easter.

By the 10th century, the beginning of the penitential season of Lent was symbolized by placing ashes on the heads of the entire congregation.

(I am not aware of any movement among traditionalists to go back to these earlier practices. Our culture has changed!)

From Obligation to give up to Opportunity to wake up

Reflecting on Lent in my later years, I began to appreciate that Lent is more an opportunity than an obligation. Stepping back, I now realize how significant the shift is.

I used to think in terms of some kind of annual spiritual house cleaning. It was an opportunity to improve my standing with God. And so, it required giving up things – candy, tobacco, alcohol) to show God I was serious..

But it is so much more. Lent is a time for waking up. The root meaning of repent is to change your way of thinking. Put another way… Wake up to the fuller meaning of Matthew 25 “whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters you do unto me”. Remember he asked do you understand what I have done in washing your feet. Do this in memory of me.

I now think of Lent more as an invitation and an opportunity to “wake up”. to the mystery of God’s love. If there is any “giving up” it is getting rid of the things that put me to sleep and prevent me from seeing what God’s love looks like in daily living. It is waking up to the implications of being called to be a sign of God’s love for my brothers and sisters, especially the least of them and those otherwise outside my circle.

A more intentional approach to Lent

My reflection today is a sign of a more intentional approach to Lent.  I am not waiting for Lent to begin thinking about waking up. Two weeks before Lent I am beginning to take stock of the practical ways I need to change my way of thinking about loving all my brothers and sisters.

By the time Ash Wednesday comes, I hope to have a clearer picture of how my need to wake up to seeing and serving others as Christ did even to his death on the cross at the hands of his enemies.

It’s not too early to begin thinking of

  • The changes you want to make in your way of thinking and
  • What your life will look like when you do change your way of thinking

Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk

Courtesy of