Lenten Promises

By Josh Ludke
Pope Francis places ashes on head of Slovakian Cardinal Jozef Tomko during Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome March 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (March 5, 2014) See POPE-ASHWEDNESDAY March 5, 2014.

The Season of Lent is grounded in some constants: The priests wear violet. We fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We fast from meat on Fridays. We do not sing the Alleluia during Mass. We understand that, in the liturgical year, Lent represents the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, fasting and praying. At the end of Lent, of course, we commemorate the three big days during which Jesus is crucified, dies, and rises from the dead on Easter Sunday. And throughout Lent, we typically make Lenten promises to give up something material to commemorate Jesus’ fast in the desert.

That’s a solid summary of what Lent is and how we as Catholics celebrate it. As a child, I would make Lenten promises to give up something material that I liked for Lent. I would give up chocolate. I conducted my own small fast to honor Jesus and his fast in the desert.

But we need to remember something important: The Lenten promises we make do not have to be material, and they do not even have to involve giving something up. We make Lenten promises to deepen our relationship with God. Giving something up can accomplish that by cutting down on the material in our lives, but contemplating a Bible verse every day and calling important people in our lives all work towards that same goal.

Lent is about preparing for Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, which, freely given, overpowers the damage we have done to our relationship with God. God invites us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, fasting and preparing for Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday through Lenten promises that, material or not, are uniquely tailored toward our callings as Christians.

Our purpose at this start of Lent is to discern how God desires for us to draw closer to him, and to commit to an effort that can bring that about. As someone who deeply engages with the Vincentian mission, I know that my Lenten promise will in some way relate to giving of myself for the good of others and setting myself up to continue doing so after Lent.