Ghost of Lenten Seasons Past


Charles Dickens wrote a story about the Ghost of Christmas Past. This is a brief reflection about the Ghost of Lenten Seasons Past.

You see, observing Lent is a relatively recent experience in my life. I’ve been in the Church just 11 years, so I have only been obliged by the rules for fasting, abstinence and other forms of Lenten penance during that time. Prior to that, I was a Presbyterian and was taught that Presbyterians don’t “give up” anything (we never used the term penance) for Lent because of the danger of becoming proud of doing something to “earn” our salvation. Never mind that the refusal to humble oneself before God could be considered the ultimate form of pride. I accepted, even welcomed, the explanation and never paid much attention to what Catholics were doing in the spring of each year. I didn’t much want to deprive myself of anything I might enjoy and couldn’t see any value in fasting from anything; it was just the rationale I needed to keep things as they were.

And yet, I always had a suspicion that the Presbyterian approach to penance was too pat, too easy. I sensed deep down that I was being denied something that was central to being a Christian. Still, in all the years I was a Protestant, I never seriously questioned the matter; I was in blissful ignorance.

Then I came into the Church and things changed. I was suddenly obliged, at least on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday to deny myself something. I wasn’t sure I could, or if I really wanted too. I still wasn’t completely convinced of any value to, or necessity of, a season dedicated to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. So, I have to admit, that during the first two or three Lents that I was in the Church, I focused mainly on those two days and didn’t think a lot about the rest of the season or what it really meant. However, as time went on, I began to think I should give it a try, see if I could get into it, and I began by focusing on just one or two things that I wanted to change; I think in that first year I gave up watching TV for the entire period.

As this Lent began, I realized that for the last two or three years, I have actually looked forward to Ash Wednesday. I began to wonder what this change meant, just what made the difference? I can’t say I have made great strides in spiritual growth over these past few years, so that’s not it. I believe the answer is that I have learned the truth in the saying of John the Baptist, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” I must decrease. But more than that, I have learned how hard that is to live out and how far I have to go to make it a reality in my life. I struggle just to give up a meal, or to watch less TV; what does it take for me to give up my pride, my self-reliance, my quick judgments? A great deal it seems.

The season of Lent provides me with an annual reminder of just who and what I am, and Who and What I need, and of the great chasm between the two. It gives me a chance to add just a stone or two to the bridge that must be constructed to span that chasm. Far from making me proud of what I have accomplished with my petty sacrifices, it humbles me to the reality of my situation and my absolute dependence on my Father for everything that I am and have. I haven’t “earned” a thing; I’ve been given everything. I’m gratful that the Church gives us the chance to

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Ron Moffat published on March 4, 2007 5:00 PM.

The Blazing Club of the Word was the previous entry in this blog.

St. John Climacus on Repentence is the next entry in this blog.

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