The Church gives us the season of Lent as a means to guide us in our search for lasting happiness. Far from being a dark and dreary penitential season, Lent is truly a time of joy-filled anticipation.
It is intended to ready us for "the glorious and joyful love" that is still to come at Easter time. The Lenten practices that we are invited to embrace during this holy season—prayer, fasting and almsgiving—are meant to strengthen us. As an athlete prepares for the events that will win him or her a crown of victory, we Christians discipline our minds, hearts and bodies in anticipation of the Lord's victory over sin and death.
We steel our souls in anticipation of the ecstasy to come—the exultant, overwhelming joy of Easter. Why is Lent necessary? Why not simply bask in the Easter sun that we know dawned for us—once and for all—more than 2,000 years ago? Why deny ourselves the good things that we enjoy all year-round when Christ has given us everything we could hope for? Lent is a time of self-denial.
It is necessary to remind us that we are still called to repent, to change our ways of thinking and acting so that we can believe in, and be transformed by, the Good News of our Savior Jesus Christ. Lent is needed to keep us spiritually fit.
Lenten observances prepare us for the evangelizing mission that the Risen Lord gave to us, his disciples, just before he ascended into heaven to sit at his Father's right hand.
Lent prepares us for the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes as a consequence of the Lord's Passion, death and resurrection. We need Lent because we never want to take for granted "the glorious and joyful love, spreading outward and radiant with light" that the Holy Father tells us is God's gift of himself freely given to us through Jesus' supreme sacrifice on the Cross.
We need Lent for the same reason that we need the sacrament of penance. We are sinners who need to be cleansed and healed before we are truly able to experience God's forgiveness in the holy Eucharist and in the Easter mystery.
What are the three main disciplines we are called to observe during Lent? Prayer, fasting and almsgiving—generous sharing.