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Visum Monachae… On Lent Myths #2

Sister Edith Bogue

Lent begins this week: St. Benedict’s favorite season of the Church year. He told his monks that “all of life should be a continual Lent.” With some sorrow, he admitted that “nowadays” (the sixth century!) even monks were “too weak” to keep Lent year-round. Would year-round Lent work, or would it become the new normal? Words like St. Benedict’s give rise to some wild myths about Lent.

MYTH: We need Lent because human beings are evil by nature.

Lent is a time for sinners. We are all sinners, even the Pope – as Pope Francis reminds us often. But the spirituality of Lent highlights that humans were created good, in the image of God. Sin is “failure in genuine love for God and neighbor” (Catechism 1849). Lent calls on us to recognize our sin AND reminds us of God’s mercy and grace. With them, we can turn toward God and away from sin. If human beings were evil by nature, Lent would have no purpose.

St. Benedict said that during Lent we “wash away the negligences of other times.” Lent clears away distractions to open a space in which our spiritual life can grow. Lent reminds us of all the good we are called to be.

MYTH: Lent is only for Catholics. Or for holy people. Not for me.

Lent is especially a season for those seeking God. Some are people exploring a faith for the first time. Others want to revive their dry spiritual lives. Many want to continue growing closer to God. Most sense the gap between the good deeds they would like to be doing and the reality of their everyday life. Lent is a time of grace to close this gap. The traditional practices of Lent are spiritual exercises – a workout room for the spiritual life. Fasting helps us see everything as God’s gift. Prayer gives us time to connect with God. Almsgiving – caring for the needy and poor – helps God’s spirit of love and mercy grow in us.

Is this only for Catholics? No. Many Christian faiths – Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant – include some practice of Lent. Some other religions have similar seasons of fasting and spiritual growth.

MYTH: Lent is 40 days long, from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday.

The calendar disproves this one: there are 46 days from March 1 up to April 16. Some sources say the Sundays are not part of Lent. Others say that Lent ends on Holy Thursday and doesn’t begin until the first Sunday. In history, Lent has varied in length. The focus on 40 days links Lent to the time Jesus spent in prayer and fasting before he began his public ministry. Disputes about which 40 days are “really” Lent are fruitless.

FACTS: During Lent, Americans contribute millions of dollars to charities. We give thousands of hours of volunteer service. People reconcile old grudges. Many experience God’s love anew. Some hear a special call.

The Sisters invite you to pray with us or to sit in the quiet the Chapel during this holy season.

Sister Edith works with seekers and lay people who live by the Benedictine Rule; she is an Associate Professor of Sociology at CSS.