What is the first word that comes to mind when we think of Lent?
Perhaps penance or sacrifice, since we are so attached to our comforts; for the Medievals it might, instead, have been Love, for they saw the days as an opportunity to express their love for salvation by participating in the Cross, however mildly.
Both are true and both must be united.
We sacrifice according to the measure of our willpower, because we love, however tepidly, He who died for us whole-heartedly. So we celebrate that Love, even as we mourn for the sins which made it necessary, and we try to return a tiny bit of love in our mindfulness and our sacrifices.
I was not bred to the profound spirituality of the Eastern Fathers, who are determined that all must know that God is infinitely greater than anything they can think of Him. As a man of the West, I am shaped by fascination with the mind since it reached its highest expression, so far, in St. Thomas Aquinas. Thus, in this season, I stand in awe of the sheer genius of the Church that was given the forty days of the Flood rains, the forty years of Israel in the desert, the forty days of the Perfect One in the desert before His temptation.
Then, after the death and the rising, after the remembering and the recording, amidst the persecutions and the triumphs, She, the Bride of Christ, shaped those forty days of Lent so that each man, woman and child could take part, in their small lives, in God’s gifts of Love and sacrifice.
Who else on earth asks men and women to look steadily at themselves for forty days, and see what they are made of? To look honestly at the chaos within and yet attempt to order their lives to charity and obedience? How nobly the Church thinks of every human being, that She asks this of them!