Lent is a privileged season for spiritual renewal – our time for spring cleaning within our souls, or literally, our spring training.
Aside from deepening our prayer life, we are called to embrace fasting and almsgiving.
These forms of self-denial are called ascetical practices, from the Greek askesis, meaning training for athletic contests.
The root word helps us to understand the “why” behind our Lenten observances. We do not give more of our time or resources simply for the sake of doing something extra, nor do we “give up” things just to feel the pinch of missing them.
Rather, we are letting go of ourselves, and our attachments, in an intentional way because we are working toward something, and Someone. We are striving to grow closer to the Lord by concretely repenting for our sins, and by participating in Jesus’ own self-denial.
One of the great figures of the 20th century Liturgical Movement, Pius Parsch, describes the true meaning of Lent:
…the mystery is re-enacted in each person’s heart: in your soul Christ is wrestling with the devil; or better, by the very fact that you are a member of the mystical Christ, you are involved in this fight….
Therefore we must re-live our Savior’s Passion in Lent…as disciples we must die with Christ in order to rise with Him as new men on Easter.
Parsch sees our supernatural life in God as the key to Lent:
I view Lent, indeed the whole Easter cycle, from the approach of a life filled with God. The Christmas cycle was dominated by the idea of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that was expected during Advent and established at Christmas and Epiphany. Dominating the Easter cycle, however, is the theme of supernatural life engendered, renewed, and perfected.
Fasting is a means toward the goal of a “more flourishing inner life” —
We must remember that we are members of Christ’s Body; by sin we defiled this Body, but now we will help to purify it.
Parsch emphasizes that our life in Christ is the whole point of our self-denial, or else it becomes meaningless:
The essential lesson contained in the Gospel discourse is that the fast should be a deep inward matter of the soul devoid of all selfishness or ulterior motivation….
Fasting of itself, therefore, is of no value; only when linked with the sacrifice of Jesus does it become useful and meritorious….
First we follow Him as the penitent par excellence into the desert of self-denial to fast with Him for forty days. Our fast will be spiritually fruitful if we keep it in unity with Him, if it is an extension of His fasting.
–The Church’s Year of Grace, Volume II