The One Thing Necessary: Lent Primer

By Sean Toh

“So…what are you doing for Lent?” 

Lent is an important season in our liturgical calendar. As the season of preparation for Easter approaches, this question often makes its way into our thoughts and conversations. It is common to hear of friends undertaking new spiritual routines, or giving up things like social media, junk food, and video games. While these can be beneficial, it is worth examining our intentions behind taking up these practices. Even the traditional pillars of Lent – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – can fall short of their purpose if not ordered towards a proper end, often becoming sources of spiritual pride.

Perhaps a more important question is: What am I doing this for? Without a clear answer, we are no different from someone trying out new-year resolutions, and often returning to their old ways shortly after. Disciplines that we take up become mere means to staying healthy, optimizing time, and self-improvement. This misses the point of Lent entirely. As we look towards the Cross in preparation for Easter, we begin to appreciate that the purpose of Lent is not so much a “what”, but a “who”. It is not about the number of Rosaries said, hours in prayer, days of fasting, or money given away. The goal of Lent, as it is also for the Christian life, is a person. Consequently, a deeper union with Christ and His Church should be the end towards which our Lenten practices are ordered. It is thus helpful to ask ourselves: how is (a given practice) leading me to greater love for God and others?

Still, the season of Lent transcends the question of what we can do for God. There are many good things that we can do for God – we see this with Martha in the Gospel of Luke. (cf. Lk 10:38-42) Yet, Jesus tells her that only one thing is necessary, and that Mary has chosen the better part. What did Mary do? She sat beside the Lord at his feet and did exactly what the voice at the Transfiguration said to do – “Listen to him.” (Lk 9:35) Instead of asking ourselves what we can do for God, perhaps the proper question is one that is first directed to Him in prayer, asking: “Lord, what do you desire to do in me?” 

Lent is thus not an opportunity for self-improvement, but a time of intentional cooperation with God’s graces, allowing Him to take the lead. This will look different for each one of us, and so this season is one that must be grounded in prayer. As we make our way to the foot of the Cross, looking upon “Him who we have pierced” (Jn 19:37), let us listen for the voice of God and turn our hearts towards Him. Allow yourselves to be surprised! May we be open to the ways in which He calls us to love and grow, letting this Lent be God’s and not our own.

This Lent, we invite you to walk with us as we make this journey together with the Lord. Let us make these lyrics our prayer: “Lord strip it all away, till only you remain” – and like Mary, may we come to discover that He truly is the only thing necessary. 

Reflection Activity

Spend some time in prayer this week asking the Lord what He desires for you in this Lent. Look to Him and listen to Him as you list down your commitments for the season. Be intentional in thinking through the purpose of each commitment and how it leads you to a deeper union with Christ and His Church.

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