Looking Forward To The “Mini-Vacation” Of Lent

Judith Valente
4 min readFeb 11, 2024
Lent, which begins with the spreading of ashes on one’s forehead on Ash Wednesday, can be a time of renewal and awakening.

The penitential season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday this coming week, which happens also to be Valentine’s Day. In years past, I didn’t welcome with much alacrity this six-week season that calls for increased prayer, additional generosity and a good dose of self-denial. I puzzled over how much more prayer I could fit into my busy days. I struggled with practicing self-denial and scrambled for opportunities to be more generous.

This year, though, I’m looking forward to Lent.

I received renewed insight into this important liturgical season after reading a recent reflection written by Sister Teresa Jackson, a Benedictine sister who leads a women’s monastic community in Cottonwood, Idaho.

Sister Teresa describes Lent as a gift. The gift is having a chunk of time to refocus on our interior life. Lent’s penitential practices aren’t about guilt and duty, she adds, but “a chance for a retreat, a mini-vacation, a time when we can give ourselves permission to focus on our spiritual life.”

Great, I thought! Exactly what I need!

Sister Teresa suggests that we become “purposeful” about this retreat time. In other words, we make a commitment to mend those rough edges of our personality that we spend most of our time either ignoring or denying. We commit to doing the good works we say we want to do, but usually don’t manage to get around to.

It’s interesting that so many of the gospel readings leading up to Ash Wednesday relate to healings that Jesus performs. Some of those healings are overtly physical, others are psychological, all are spiritual. I especially love the story in the gospel of Mark about a woman who’s suffered a bleeding disorder for 12 years. She seeks out Jesus hoping he can cure her but is shoved and jostled by the crowd trailing him, all hoping for their own experience of healing.

Finally, the woman crawls toward Jesus on her knees and reaches out to touch the hem of his cloak. It’s enough to immediately stop her bleeding.

What happens next is quite moving.

“At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him,” Mark says. “He kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, and trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.’”

In this painting, in order to be healed of her 12 years of bleeding, a woman crawling on her knees reaches out to touch the hem of the cloak of Jesus as he walks ahead of her surrounded by a crowd.
The readings leading up to Lent from the gospel of Mark focus on the many incidents of Jesus healing physical, psychological and spiritual ills, including that of a woman who suffered from 12 years of bleeding.

One of the most important spiritual lessons I ever received didn’t come from someone who lives in a monastery or even works for a church. It came from poet Marie Howe. In her poems and in the way she lives her life, Marie taught me that “the wounded have to become the healers.”

If we’ve alive, we have likely been wounded in one way or another. As such, we can all be healers. What if my main Lenten practice became to try to bring about healing whenever I encounter woundedness, suffering, discontent?

My efforts most certainly won’t be as dramatic as Jesus’ healings. Mine might include refraining from negative talk, from losing my temper when people or situations upset me. They could mean trying to release old resentments and difficult memories.

They could also mean checking in more frequently with people who might feel lonely, who might even be difficult to be around. In his Lenten message this year, Pope Francis urges us to ask ourselves two questions: Where am I? And, where is my brother or sister?

“The cry of so many of our brothers and sisters rises to heaven. Let us ask ourselves: do we hear that cry? Does it trouble us?” the pope says.

As for prayer, what about taking more time for silence. For listening to God instead of fixating on what I think are my needs?

Most importantly, can I take a hard look at the habits I’ve acquired over the past year that don’t serve me or others well? Can I make a conscious effort to let go of them, to make a fresh start?

Referring to the Israelites’ time of bondage in Egypt, Pope Francis reminds us, “Today too, God’s people can cling to an oppressive bondage … at those moments when we feel hopeless, wandering through life like a desert, lacking a promised land as our destination. Lent is the season of grace in which the desert can become once more … the place of our first love.”

In his Rule for monastic life, St. Benedict describes Lent as a time for “spiritual longing,” but also for joy. He encouraged each member of the monastery to write down the practices they intend to focus on, something monastics call to this day, their “bona opera,” their good work.

What will be our bona opera this Lent? How can we make the most of what Sister Teresa Jackson calls this spiritual “mini-vacation?”

In the words of Pope Francis, Lent is a time we can “press forward on a road not yet taken.”

A young woman kneels and remains deep in prayer at an altar even as others walk behind her.
Lent’s focus on increased prayer is an invitation to practice silence, listening to God rather than focusing on what we think are our needs.



Judith Valente

Author of 4 spirituality books & 2 poetry collections. Award-winning reporter for Wall Street Journal, PBS-TV, Washington Post & 2 IL public radio stations.