The Original Meaning of Lent

"Christ and the Woman of Samaria" by Veronese

In those parishes where the Scrutinies are celebrated for the Elect, the readings on the Third Sunday of Lent will be taken from Year A. That will include the account of the Samaritan Woman at the Well in the Gospel of John (John 4:5-42). This is a special edition of our weekly reflections on the Sunday readings. – The Editors.


Lent – A Time of Introspection and Evangelization

Lent’s a time of introspection.  We read Exodus, and watch the Israelites grumbling, even after the amazing things God had done for them (Ex 17:3-7).  In them, we recognize ourselves.  For many of us, then, Lent is time for the spiritual equivalent of New Year’s resolutions.  We set aside work on ourselves for forty days so we don’t end up wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years. We do things to burn off the fat off that’s weighing us down, try to improve our spiritual diet, and do some spiritual exercises to strengthen the muscles we call “virtues.”

But in the early days of the Church, Lent was not so much a time to focus inward.  It was time for Catholics to focus outward.  It was a time not just for personal growth, but for growth of the Church.

In the days of the Church Fathers, did the whole Church fast, pray, and give alms for the forty days preceding Easter?  Absolutely.  But Catholics did this primarily for the sake of others.  There were two groups of people that were the main beneficiaries of this prayer and penance: new Catholics to be baptized at Easter and lapsed Catholics to be readmitted to communion. These folks were praying and fasting during Lent to break the power of darkness and to prepare to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land.

We ought to recover this ancient tradition and do penance for and with those who will enter or return to the Church at Easter.  But there is something else that we should do.  There are millions more who should be returning or entering.  We need to tell them about Jesus.

“Evangelize?  That’s not my charism, not my personality.”  “I need more education, first.”  “I evangelize by example.”  But the second Vatican Council and all Popes since teach that all Catholics are called to evangelize in both deed and word.

True, not everyone is a Fulton Sheen, and not everyone can manage to get a degree in theology.  But the story of the Samaritan woman (John 4) teaches the kind of evangelism that all of us can manage.

First, Jesus models it for us.  He comes to a town where everyone is a member of a heretical sect and sits down by a well.  A woman comes to draw water.  Israelites usually don’t talk to Samaritans, much less drink out of their vessels which were considered ritually impure.  To boot, men usually don’t make conversation with women. But Jesus recognizes her existence and affirms her by being willing to accept a drink from her.  Once she gets over her shock, a dialogue ensues.  It starts out about water, wells, Jews and Samaritans, but Jesus asks her questions that throw her off a bit and make her think.  He finally asks a question that leads her to “fess up” and admit her need.  She’s hungry for love, and has run through quite a few partners looking for the real thing.  Jesus’ soul-piercing glance tells her that his is the love she’s been looking for.  She abandons her water jar and returns to city to tell everyone about Jesus.

Did she wait till she had a masters degree in theology?  Did she sit down with people and demonstrate from Scripture why he was the Messiah?  No.  She simply told people, with joy, confidence, and conviction, what Jesus had done for her.  And she invited people to come and experience him for themselves.

And that’s how a large portion of that heretical town came to believe.  And that’s how a large portion of the Roman Empire came to believe.  There were no crusades in stadiums, no TV preachers.  Christians simply listened to neighbors and co-workers with respect and love, asked questions to find out their needs, and told how Jesus had met similar needs in their lives.  And then an invitation was issued to come check it out.

One of our Lenten resolutions this year ought to be to get over our fear of sharing the good news, to be aware of the spiritual needs of those around us, and share His love.  More people are looking than you think.  “The fields are white for harvest.” (John 4:35).


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118. This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and is reproduced here by permission of the author.


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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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