SNAP! Just like that, the liturgical season changes, and it’s Lent. With Advent, you’ve got the wind down of the previous year with the celebration of Christ the King and the secular shift toward Christmas. After Christmas, we’re eased gently into Ordinary Time with Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord. Lent is different. We’re cruising along through Ordinary Time when Ash Wednesday jumps out of the bushes at us in the middle of the week. We are told that we have to fast and abstain, and suddenly the atmosphere becomes penitential.
Can you tell that I don’t take fasting particularly well?
There are some cultural (i.e., non-liturgical) precursors to Ash Wednesday. There’s Carnival, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday (I admit to indulging in a Fat Tuesday ritual of taking lunch at a Chinese buffet). But these celebrations aren’t any kind of transitionary preparations. They are the equivalent of hitting the accelerator just before smashing into a wall, which makes the collision that much more jarring. It is much more appropriate that the feast follow the fast, as Easter follows Good Friday.
For me, Lent comes just in time this year. The emphasis on almsgiving, prayer, and fasting calls me to reform areas of my life in which I have grown lax. It’s not as though Christians only do these things during Lent. We should do them year-round. Lent, however, is a season for renewed observance. We are reminded just how far we have relapsed and invited to make good things habitual once again.
Yes, the onset of Lent is like a slap in the face – a slap that’s needed to restore our spiritual senses to the real world. It is time to re-focus our vision and discipline on what really matters.