Why do we have the season of Lent?

Last week, I was asked by someone coming into the faith, “Why do we have the season of Lent?” For many lifelong Catholics, we take this season for granted. We are almost hardwired as we grow older to have the season embedded in our spiritual lives. It’s good for us to look at some of our spiritual practices with fresh eyes as if we were someone experiencing them for the first time.

We have the season of Lent because we are imitating the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, which was a time of intense prayer before he began his public ministry. The Gospel of Mark for the First Sunday of Lent reminds us of Jesus’ time in the desert:

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:12-15)

The practice of forty days is not only rooted in the time Jesus spent in the desert, but also corresponds to other biblical references to the number forty. Forty is found in the bible as a time of testing, trial, penance, purification and renewal. The following examples of scriptural reference to the number forty are shared by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (usccb.org/resources/why-lent-40-days):

      -The face of the earth was cleansed and purified during the promised period of days and nights that rain poured down during the great flood. (Gen 7:4)

      -The face of the earth was renewed during a forty-day period after the mountain tops appeared and the waters of the great flood receded. (Gen 8:5-6)

      -Moses spent forty years as a shepherd in the desert before God called him to lead the Israelites out of slavery. (Acts 7: 29-30)

      -Moses fasted for forty days and nights on Mount Sinai before receiving the tablets of the covenant. (Ex 34:28)

      -The Israelites spent forty years wandering in the desert, as a time of testing, trial and purification of the people, before reaching the Promised Land. (Jos 5:6; see Num 32:13).

      -The prophet Elijah spent forty days in the desert before encountering God on Mount Horeb. (1 Kgs 19:8)

      -The Ninevites were given forty days before God was going to destroy the city, allowing time for repentance and conversion. (Jon 3:4-5)

We are called to fully embrace Lent as a season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It’s a time in which we should seek out the sacrament of Reconciliation before Easter Sunday. As we prayerfully accompany those being prepared for baptism, it is a time for all of us to reflect on and take our baptismal promises more seriously.

I think of Lent as a time to get “back to basics”: to renew our love for Jesus and live out His calling for us more intensely. Please know of my prayers for all of us as we enter this most holy season. Have a great Lent!

Your servant,

Most Reverend Robert J. McClory

Diocese of Gary