St. Michael’s Lent originated with St. Francis of Assisi, a man of many Lents. He mandated that all his friars observe two each year: the Great Lent that we all know and love, and the Lent of Christmas starting after the feast of All Saints. He also strongly encouraged a third optional Lent, which he called a “lent of benediction,” which started on the feast of the Epiphany and lasted 40 days.
St. Francis didn’t stop there though! He sometimes did up to 5 Lents in a year. That’s 4 to 7 months folks. His main goal during such times was to seek the will of God for his life and to be united to Christ crucified. His focus on the Passion came from an experience of his when the Lord spoke to him from a crucifix and said “Francis rebuild my church, which as you see is falling into ruin.” After this experience, he couldn’t look upon Christ crucified without crying. In his Lenten seasons, Francis was trying to make some return to Jesus by being utterly conformed to Him (Rom 12:1-2). What is exceptional about St. Francis is that this conformity became physically manifested in his flesh when he received the stigmata, the mystical but physical wounds of Jesus in his hands, feet, and side in 1224.
Conformity to Christ was not a once-a-year thing for St. Francis and neither should it be for us. It is a year-round pursuit. This is what it means to be a Christian. As St Paul says “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2Cor. 4:10). We want at all times to be chasing after Christ crucified. We need to know His love and to offer something back.
What is striking about this Lent is that it is almost exactly 6 months from when the Great Lent roughly falls. To mark this halfway point, the Church places the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on September 14th. It was in or around this feast that Francis received the stigmata. So, at the center of St Michael’s Lent is Christ crucified. And on either end, we have Our Lady and St Michael, the greatest of the saints and the greatest of the angels. For us, they can be like Aaron and Hur were for Moses when they helped him intercede for the people by holding his arms up like Christ on the Cross (Exodus 17:8-13).
Like St. Francis our goal in observing this extra Lent should be Jesus and trying to be more conformed to Him. So this is why we are renewing this practice, because we need it. We need Jesus and the support of all of Heaven.