My dear friends in Christ,

While our thoughts may be preoccupied with the Super Bowl, Mardi Gras or Valentine’s Day, we can’t escape the fact that Ash Wednesday arrives this week and with it the invitation to embrace the disciplines of Lent.

The word “discipline” is an interesting word to consider as we prepare for Lent. I think most people hear or read the word and immediately associate it with something negative or painful.  We are disciplined as children when we disobey our parents or behave poorly in school or other social settings. We are disciplined when in school we violate rules or policies or if we have been found to have cheated on an exam or project. As adults, discipline comes in the form of traffic tickets or being written up at work for poor performance. “Discipline” is a hard word to like. Yet, the Church invites us to embrace discipline as we begin our 40-day journey in our liturgical desert. Does discipline have to be interpreted always in a negative light?

I’d like to propose that we need to consider discipline positively as it relates to our observance of Lent. In saying this, I’m not saying that we will absolutely love fasting or sacrificing personal time to tend to the needs of others or in spending more time in prayer. What I want us all to consider is that the discipline of Lent is not meant to be a punishment imposed on us by God or the Church. Rather, the discipline in Lent is meant to help us refocus on what is most important in our lives. Though food, recreation, and entertainment are not necessarily bad things, they can become so important to us that we are living only for them. That is not the way of a disciple. We fast and sacrifice in Lent to remind us that “life is more than food and the body more than clothing” (Matthew 6:25). The disciplines of Lent help us to turn our hearts and minds back to the source of all blessings and graces, God. The disciplines of Lent are good and worthwhile because they remind us of our status as beloved children of a loving Father and that we have been redeemed by His Son and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

So what should our discipline look like this Lent? I know all too well what often distracts me from keeping my eyes on the Lord and so I tend to embrace practices which cause me to spend more time “looking up” than looking around. Each one of us needs to consider carefully our lives and ask, what is it in my life that most distracts me from keeping my life centered in the love of God. If its entertainment, sports, or social media, then cut these things out of our lives for the 40 days. If it is an attachment to food and drink, then consider extending the fasts and abstaining of Lent to other days, not just Fridays. Is it wasting time on our phones? Then set them aside for a good period of time each day. If our familial commitments have not been attended to in timely fashion because we have become preoccupied with work, sports, or something else, then let’s commit to strengthening our family bonds by spending more time together, whether in person or by phone. Each one of us needs to figure out what it is that God is asking us to sacrifice so we might be renewed in faith, hope, and charity.

Will this be easy? Probably not. To be disciplined does not mean we like the sacrifices in themselves, but we embrace them because of the greater good. As St. Paul wrote, “athletes exercise discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one” (1 Corinthians 9:25).

Keeping our eyes on the true prize helps us realize that the disciplines of Lent are good because they lead us to God.

Blessed Lent,

Msgr. John J. McDermott

Diocesan Administrator