Lent begins this week


Many believers will be going to church Wednesday to receive ashes, usually the sign of the cross on the forehead.

There will be television reports about Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans and Carnaval revelry in Rio. Get your sinning in by Tuesday. The sacrifices begin on Wednesday.

Many Christians give up something for Lent, sweets or drinking alcohol or smoking or meat on Friday, as an expression of penance or repentance. Still others commit to doing something good, like volunteering or helping the poor. These spiritual disciplines can be very meaningful.

Lent lasts for forty days, a symbolic participation in Jesus’ desert fast at the beginning of His public ministry. Forty days is a long time to go without food, too long. But we’re not Jesus. Our forty day disciplines remind us of the importance of commitment, sacrifice and personal consecration. They help us to be Christ-like, at least a little.

Lenten disciplines aren’t about Lent, really. They are about our lifestyle.

It takes about three weeks to break a habit, and about the same amount of time to form a new habit. Lent lasts about six weeks. Now might be a good time to revisit that New Year’s resolution you didn’t keep.

We accomplish our goals by the three “D’s” – desire, decision and discipline.

Desire is the emotional component. Human beings are not rational creatures. Pascal said, “The heart has reasons that reason does not know.” Lent gives us the opportunity to latch onto that most emotional part of our being, the desire for God.

Decision is the rational part. Desires need to be controlled. You may want to make or break a habit desperately, but you need a plan. Lent is the excuse to make a plan.

And discipline. The reason New Year’s resolutions don’t work is that we don’t tell anyone about them. Go out on a limb. Tell your priest or pastor. Pray about it in church. Let others know. Lent gives others an excuse to keep you accountable without being busybodies.

Bill Reagan is executive director of Loaves & Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley.