The profound Christian spiritual season of Lent began with Ash Wednesday on February 14, which this year was also St. Valentine's Day. This 40-day period is considered a sacred time.
Yet there are some strident voices in the world who assert that perhaps Lent may now be an anachronism in the complex and evolving global scene in the 21st century A.D.
The importance of the Lenten season in the world has not diminished. It is clearly evident that in this present century the world is in an appalling state, roiled by war and violence and corruption and danger. It seems that the heart of humankind has become lost in the confusion of a rabid world.
Lent is considered a spiritual season of calm, of reflection about the meaning of human life, of repentance for the errors and sins of humankind, of rejecting the temptations which the world always offers. It is also a time to help the next person, be it neighbor or stranger, with actions of mercy and charity.
In many of the cultures and religious traditions in the world, there are also seasons of pausing and of calm. The annual seasonal closing of Taos Pueblo now is an example.
The Lenten season is distinct because it also commemorates the history of one individual who in the Christian faith tradition is believed to be the real and divine son of God, and whom the faithful believe to be God and man at the same time.
According to the history, this son of mankind was born as all people are born and worked as all others work, but at the same time, because he was divine, he cured and saved many. He healed both physical and spiritual afflictions.
Then, at the insidious behest of secular authorities, he was condemned to brutal torture and death by crucifixion. Yet the history also relates that he resurrected from his death, and by so doing, he opened the doors of divine clemency and eternal life.
Lent began Ash Wednesday when the Christian faithful received, imposed on their foreheads, smudged in the shape of a cross, the blessed ashes of burned palm plants. It is a mark of contrition and penance.
Those who received this mark of ashes signified that they are ready to follow the steps of contrition and penitence for their errors and shortcomings and sins. They are ready to fast and abstain from the vices and meanness that are contrary to God and their brothers and sisters and to resist the world's temptations and the works of evil while being charitable to others.
Here in Northern New Mexico, these spiritual exercises and practices continue. Here, these religious customs have been observed for more than four centuries, and are exercised with devout fervor in the ancient communities and the churches and the moradas and the spiritual center of the Santuario de Chimayó.
The world's peoples say they have hope that the world will change and turn away from danger, from violence, from anguish. Many use the Lenten season as an opportunity to better their attitude, to repent of abuse and vitriol and to ask pardon from others who they have hurt or to forgive those who might have injured them. They seek to reconcile with each other and with their Creator.
Those Lenten practitioners who engage in the special prayers and spiritual exercises do so with the understanding that Lent is a sacred time of vital importance for all humanity.
Lent gives humanity near and far the respite for quietude, for reflection and meditation upon the significance of life and how to better treat all the human family. In this 21st century, as in every year through two millennia, the spiritual necessity of the Lenten season for humankind is assuredly not diminished.