By Fr Wiseman Nkomo
What is lent and why is it important in the lives of Catholics world over?
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18.
In this Gospel passage Jesus talks to his disciples about Prayer, Almsgiving and Fasting, emphasising the fact that our Faith is not for show off. Show off is for worldly people who live without the hope of the children of God which urges us on to eternal life where all will receive their rewards.
Lent is the forty day period before Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday excluding Sundays. Sundays are excluded for the forty days of Lent because it is the day on which Christ arose, making it an inappropriate day to fast and mourn our sins.
The Holy Father Pope Francis says “lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ victory over death.” He further talks of lent as a time at which Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts” (Joel 2: 12), a time to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord, with Jesus our faithful friend who never abandons us. Who even when we sin patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, He shows us his readiness to forgive.
Lent is a favorable time for deepening our spiritual life through the means of sanctification offered us by the Church: FASTING, PRAYER and ALMSGIVING. As we may all know the root of every spiritual life is the Word of God which according to the Pope “during this season we are invited to hear and ponder more deeply.
As we do every year this year we have begun the Lenten season by celebrating Ash Wednesday which falls on the 14th February 2018. This is a day on which ashes are blessed and every present person during the celebration is marked with the ashes on the forehead. These ashes are of the palm branches, which have been blessed the previous year on Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is the Sunday on which we commemorate the glorious entry of Jesus into Jerusalem which falls on the Sunday before Good Friday.
Why does lent take 40 days?
This is because forty days is a symbolic number of discipline, devotion and preparation in the Bible. For example Moses stayed on the Mountain of God forty days (Exodus 24:18), in the first book of Kings 19:8 we read that Elijah the prophet travelled forty days before he reached the cave where he had his vision, we also read in the book of the prophet Jonah 3:4 that the city of Nineveh was given forty days to repent. Lastly and most important to us as Christian Matthew 4:2 tells us that prior to undertaking his ministry, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness praying and fasting. It is therefore fitting for the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 540 to teach that “by the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” Thus by spending in prayer and fasting to prepare for the celebration of the pascal mystery i.e. the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus the Church imitates her Lord who spent forty days in prayer and Fasting.