Once again, Christians begin the holy season of Lent for 2024.

Early Franciscans saw themselves as part of the great penitential movement of their times: men and women who heard the Gospel afresh and turned their hearts to the coming of God's Kingdom in a deeper way. Therefore, the liturgical season of Lent, dedicated to a profound conversion of mind and heart, always occupied a special place in their lives.

As such, Lenten practices are reflected in the early Franciscan rules [Friars Minor, Poor Clares, lay penitents], especially the discipline of fasting, which at the time entailed the communal solidarity of abstaining from meat, meat fats, and dairy products for the Lenten period.

We know that Francis himself almost always retired for the season of Lent with a few brothers to a hermitage – his favorites were La Verna and Greccio - where he could step apart and reflect on how God was asking him to deepen his commitment in terms of the ever-changing situation of his life.

“When blessed Francis stayed constantly in a place to pray . . . he was always anxious to know the will of the Lord, about how he could please him better” (Assisi Compilation, 118).

Most Franciscans today, committed to many activities, do not have the burden of physical penance or the time to spend all of Lent in a hermitage, but the challenge for us is still there to create sufficient mental space during this sacred season to “go apart” from our numbing daily activities to discern God’s continuing call, to “know the will of the Lord. . how we might please him better."

That call of Francis still comes to us: “Do penance, performing worthy fruits of penance: Give and it will be given to you. Forgive and you shall be forgiven. If you do not forgive people their sins, the Lord will not forgive yours. Confess all your sins. Blessed are those who die in penance, for they shall be in the kingdom of heaven. . . Beware of and abstain from every evil and persevere in good till the end” (Earlier Rule, 21).

The challenge is ours.