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The Significance Of Lent

By REV CANON SEBASTIAN CAMPBELL

The purpose of Lent is to renew and strengthen our spiritual lives. The Church makes ample opportunity for us to do this; there is an increase in spiritual opportunities that are tailor-made for the season.

Stations of the Cross is one of the more cherished customs that has helped many in spiritual devotion as we in heart and mind follow Christ on the road to Calvary. Retreats are also crucial to many a weary soul in finding refreshment in silent mediation. In addition to these opportunities, it is equally important that each individual observe Lent on a personal level. Usually the first thing that comes to mind is fasting. The very thought of fasting sends shivers down the spines of many weaklings in the faith. This concept, too, is very easily misunderstood. True fasting is to evoke discipline. St Paul puts it most beautifully when he says: “Beat the body in subjection to the spirit…”

The most obvious thing we think about as pertains to fasting is going without food altogether or eating only enough to sustain life. However, the correct word for what people do when they “give up” meat or some other food is abstinence. It is also important to understand that we can fast while giving up something else besides food, for example, bad habits or something in our lives that has too strong a hold upon us, which might not necessarily be something classed as a bad habit.

It’s traditional now and woven into the very fabric of our Anglo-Catholic response to the Lenten expectation to curtail “fun and frolic” in forms of parties, dances, excess eating, alcoholic beverages, smoking, excess jewellery and such. Lent provides such an ideal time for us to grab hold of some terrible habit in our lives, struggle boldly with it during these 40 days, and pray God for strength to have it defeated and under our feet by Easter. All this indeed parallels the struggle Jesus had with Satan in those 40 days in the wilderness.

This then provides the ideal time to deal with the part we might play in perpetuating the promiscuity of this society in terms of building up the high illegitimacy rate. God knows that it has reached an intolerable level. Bastard parents must cease following their sexual urges and stop being unfair to these “darlings” by giving them such a grave disadvantage in life by not having that which God desires for them – both parents, a resident father and mother. Lent indeed can be very meaningful to many of us if we can only use it to take stock of this mess we have gotten innocent people into.

Lent can also be a time to embark on some positive new course of action for spiritual development – Bible study, at least one weekday Mass, rebuilding the family altar, have godchildren and children in church and Sunday School, worship as a family weekly. This can be likened to the cross Jesus bids us to carry.

The American Prayer Book puts the challenge so beautifully in the invitation issued on Ash Wednesday: “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a Holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and mediating on God’s Holy Word.”

Some other points about Lent:

The fourth Sunday of Lent is known as Mid-Lent Sunday, called refreshment or Mothering Sunday. In England the custom arose for children who were away at school or domestic service to make special visits to their mothers, whence came Mothering Sunday. It is therefore recognised as the “Mother’s-Day” for the Church, as opposed to the American one in May. Youth services and marches are encouraged for churches on this day. In the city, we have a youth parade to our mother church, the Cathedral.

The fifth Sunday of Lent is called “Passion Sunday”, when focus comes to the sufferings of Christ and the mood is much more sombre and reflective.

Palm Sunday follows; it marks the start of Holy Week, the last week for Jesus. It leads to his death by crucifixion. This is precisely where our next article will begin, with Palm Sunday and Holy Week, and the significance of the Christ event against this backdrop.

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