Father Frank Brawner: Lent a time of penance, purification

Published 11:14 am Friday, March 16, 2018

The holy season of Lent is a time of preparation for Easter in Catholic, Orthodox and many Protestant communities.

The word Lent is derived from the Old English word lenten meaning “spring,” indicating the season of the observance.

There is a more specific word in the west to describe this particular season. The Latin word quadragesima, meaning “the fortieth” was the word western Europeans used to describe this time. The significance of this means of expression can be very fruitful as we prepare for the celebration of Easter.

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Christ Jesus calls us repeatedly to follow Him throughout the gospels (Matthew 16:24-26, Luke 18:22, Mark 1:17, John 21:19). This invitation of our Lord constitutes a fundamental aspect of Christian discipleship.

We follow Christ in order to enter into, and be transformed by the mystery of His life, death and resurrection, so we might say with Saint Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; It is not I who lives but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

In taking upon ourselves this instruction to follow the Lord, we are reminded of Christ taking 40 days to fast and pray in the desert before beginning His public ministry (Luke 4:1-14).

Further, we consider Christ’s solemn reminder there will be a time for Christians to fast when the bridegroom is no longer with them (Matthew 9:15), as we cry with Saints Paul and John in a plaintive maranatha! (1 Corinthians 16:22, Revelation 22:20).

The season of Lent is a time of penance and purification, recalling the Israelites wandering for 40 years in the wilderness and the offerings and fasts performed by the Ninevites for 40 days to assuage the anger of God through the prophecy of Jonah.

The 40 days which the Ark drifted upon the deluge reveals not only a punishment, but a renewal and a precursor of a new covenant.

Forty days signifies the approach to God Himself as Elijah traversed 40 days and nights to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8-18) to hear the “still small voice” of the Lord.

So then, to heed His invitation and to prepare ourselves for Easter, we elect to follow Him into the desert — we need not walk into physical deserts, but into the deserts of our own hearts.

Christ Jesus, the great high priest, was for us an unblemished sacrifice, the Lamb of God slain once and for all.

Our sacrifices, so small and insignificant serve to unite us to Him by allowing us a share in His experience, offering something for someone else.

What we offer needn’t be food or money, it is wholly within our discretion. These acts of self-denial and generosity help to form our own hearts so we might understand we “do not live by bread alone” but depend upon the grace and mercy of God.

It helps to teach us that worldly things are properly subordinated to spiritual ones.

Father Frank Brawner has pastored St. Joseph Catholic Church in Winchester since 2011. He can be reached at 744-4917 or Fatherbrawner@gmail.com .