Be glad and rejoice — it’s Lent!

I know that’s a tough sell. Lent has always been perceived as a trying time, a time for sacrifice and teeth gritting, fasting and selflessness. Not exactly joyous concepts. But my pastor has convinced me differently. He says that Lent is the most joyous season in the Church calendar, a time for transformation and salvation. And what could be happier than that?

We all start off the year with resolutions; few of us stick by them. One of the problems is time: A year is an awfully long time to commit to anything on a daily basis. Life gets in the way. But forty days? That’s hardly more than a month. If you use Lent as a time to change/better/renew your self and your soul, you have a real chance of succeeding. And that’s exactly what these forty days are for!

There’s long been a perception that Lent, in the Catholic Church, is about “giving up” something. That’s only partly true. If (as my pastor also explained), you give up chocolate for Lent, only to rip open a three-pound bag of M&Ms on Easter Sunday and gorge yourself, you’ve missed the point entirely. The idea is to improve yourself and your soul. Giving up cigarettes for forty days, if you can convert this trial into a long-term plan to salvage your health and live longer for those who love you — now there’s a proper challenge. Or if you can give up using plastic water bottles for Lent, then continue this small kindness to the planet in the days that follow Easter — that is what Lent is about.

Moreover, Lent is about addition, rather than subtraction. It is about adding forgiveness to your daily schedule. Or being kinder to others, more charitable, more positive in our interactions. It is about taking on new behaviors that will improve the state of your soul on a permanent basis. Lent is a step forward in a year — in a lifetime — that we seem to spend going in circles. It is spit-polish for the soul.

And we want to get our souls shined up. Because the other element of Lent is salvation, specifically the salvific act of Jesus, who died to save our souls. The promise of Heaven has been given; it is up to us to hold onto it. How are we doing that, if indeed we are doing it at all? Lent is a time for self-examination, a yearly check-up of sorts.

Most of all, Lent is about love, God’s love for us and our love for each other. Let us be loving this Lenten season. And rejoice! A “new you” has just begun.

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