Why Do Catholics Observe Lent?
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the Kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.
– Matthew 6:31-33
Living according to these teachings of Jesus requires deep trust in God, especially for those living paycheck to paycheck. Of course we will worry if we don’t have enough money to buy food or clothes for our family! But Jesus’ teaching is for the poor as well as the rich. In a world where we are conditioned to believe in the scarcity of resources it is natural that we will struggle to live these teachings.
Church history has given us a wonderful example of trust in God’s providence as well as faith in the scripture quoted above. A group of 3rd and 4th century ascetics known as the Desert Fathers, were individual men (and even a few women) who withdrew from civilization in order to experience greater intimacy with the God revealed in Jesus Christ.
The Desert Fathers lived in the desert where food and water are scarce, but God provided for them. They became so convinced of God’s goodness that they became some of the most effective witnesses to Christ in history. Many men and women would travel out into the wilderness to hear the Desert Fathers preach on the goodness of God. The desert fathers inspired many to live a deeper faith in Christ, and their writings still inspire many today.
The Holy Season of Lent is intended to be similar to the experience of the desert fathers. For centuries, Christians have dedicated the season of lent to withraw from the world in order to experience greater intimacy with the lord and to experience a deep conversion of heart. This is why we encourage people to slow down and back away from the stress of life. It is common nowadays that we ask people to shut down their social media accounts as a way to withdraw from the world.
Like the Desert Fathers, Catholics fast during these forty days by eating simpler and smaller meals. This is especially true on Fridays during lent when Catholics abstain from meat. During Lent, Christians also give alms to the poor. These practices bring with them the fruit of deeper trust in God and, when the forty days are over, they are able to more boldly proclaim the goodness of God.
Even Catholic Churches are made to be desert like during the season of Lent. Our Churches are stripped bare. Because so many forms of life cannot exist in the desert, plants and flowers are removed from the sanctuary to symbolize the inability of life to flourish in the desert. When we celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday the flowers and plants are returned to the sanctuary, showing very visibly that the Lord brings life to the world.
This is an important way to think of Lent. The Desert Fathers show us all that withdrawing from the world for a time of prayer and fasting can increase our trust in the Lord and make us bold witnesses to the faith that we profess. I hope that whether you are Catholic or not you will take advantage of this holy season that so many Christians have observed throughout history, so that you can speak even more eloquently of God’s goodness.