We begin the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, and this weekend is the first Sunday of Lent. Today is an excellent opportunity for us to meditate on the purpose of Lent and to meditate on the whole mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.
I once read a story about a small boy who had the bad habit of always coming home late from school. One day his parents said to him, “Son, we’ve told you repeatedly to be home on time, but still you ignore us. So be warned! When you come home from school today, be sure to be on time.” But wouldn’t you know it, when he came back home that day, he was late as usual. So they decided to teach him a lesson. At dinner time that night, the boy was served only a slice of bread and a glass of water, while his father had a full plate of food before him. The poor boy looked with hungry eyes at his father’s full plate, and with pleading eyes at his father. The father waited for the full impact to sink in, then quietly took the boy’s plate and placed it in front of himself. He then took his own plate of meat and potatoes, placed it in front of the boy, and then he quietly smiled at his son.
When the boy grew to be a man, he said, “All my life I’ve known what God is like by what my father did that night.” Because, you see, what my father did for me that day was to take upon himself the punishment and suffering that rightly belonged to me, his son.
This is called atonement. Atonement is defined as the act of making amends or making restitution for a wrong one does to another. This is done strictly for the purposes of healing or reestablishing a close relationship between a wrongdoer and the one offended. This act of restitution does not necessarily have to be made by the wrongdoer. Someone else, for example, can make this act of restitution on behalf of that person.
That is what Christ did for us. Through His suffering and death, mankind’s broken relationship with God has been restored.
This is the purpose of Lent. It is a time of spiritual renewal. Lent is a time not only to prepare ourselves to honor the memory of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, but also a time to renew and recharge our relationship with God.
Lent is a time to bring ourselves back in tune with this divine plan. It is a special time during which we prepare ourselves to celebrate the glorious Easter event.
The Catholic Encyclopedia says, “The spirit of Lent is not so much related to the liturgy of the Church as it is a response of its members to the message and teaching of Christ.”
The Gospel of Mark tells us that the very first words spoken to us by Jesus were, “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” What better way to spend this Lenten season than to meditate on the profound implication of those words.
This essay originally appeared on Catholic Journal.