The liturgical season of Lent is observed every year by Christians around the world and in many different denominations. It is based off of Jesus' time in the desert, in which for 40 days He fasted and prayed and was tempted by the devil.
As a young girl, my family lived in the upstairs flat of my grandparent's home in a Detroit suburb in Michigan. My father and his family were born in Bagnoli del Trigno, Italy and immigrated to the United States in the 1940's. We followed the Catholic tradition of Lent for many years. Known as Quaresima, or the 40th day, in Italian, Lent is the word used to describe the fast before Easter. The word comes from quaranta (forty), the traditional number used since biblical times for a period of penitence or cleansing. The word quarantena (quarantine) also comes from the same root.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season Lent. We attended church that day and had ashes placed on our foreheads in the sign of the cross. Ashes have a long history in Jewish and Christian worship and traditionally represented sorrow for our sins. On Ash Wednesday, and for every Friday until Easter arrived, we refrained from eating any sort of meat. It was a season of fasting and prayer, repentance and reflection on Jesus' sacrifice.
Having three generations living together and sharing meals and life together was a special experience for me and I treasure that time as a gift from the Lord. When I turned 16 we moved into our own home. As our family grew and changed over many years that tradition faded and then stopped. I have to admit that I miss those days. Our family was closely looking at Jesus probably more during Lent than any other time of the year. I recall it being a very special, holy time.
We talked about what he endured for us and how he came to serve and die. It was overwhelming to really understand that kind of love when I was a youngster. Now as a mother of four and grandmother, that kind of love still overwhelms me, amazes me, and fills my heart with abundant gratitude.
This year Lent begins on Wednesday, February 14--Valentine's Day.
Approximately one billion Valentine's Day cards are sent each year in the United States alone. This is second only to the number of Christmas cards sent. Most of us enjoy "spoiling" a loved one on Valentine's Day. Sending gifts and cards conveys love, affection, and friendship. I still remember all the valentines cards we got in elementary school and giggled wildly with my friends when that special boy sent an "I Love You" card! In a way that is what the Lenten season says to us -- Jesus is saying "I Love You!"
The Apostle John tells us: "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).
Although there is no specific mention of Lent in the bible, there is a great deal of teaching on the importance of fasting and self-examination. For me the season of lent is a time of focusing on all Jesus did for us, a time of examination and humble repentance in light of the cross. A time that also looks forward to celebrating His glorious resurrection on Easter and the resurrection he promises us as followers of Christ .