is Lent all about eating gruel?
I hope not, and here are three helps for Lent that emphasize its positive quality ......
Fr. James Martin SJ discussing almsgiving and joy during Lent .....
Here's an audio Lent retreat I've been listening to ... This series of retreat conferences was presented by Fr. Larry Gillick, S.J. at the Jesuit Retreat House, outside of St. Paul, Minnesota, from January 25 to 28th, 2007. The conferences follow generally the Sunday liturgical readings for for Liturgical Year C  and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
And here's part of an article on the subject of Vatican II, Lent, and baptism - Ash Wednesday: Our Shifting Understanding of Lent. As someone who went through RCIA, and who at the time didn't really even believe, I'm glad to know there are second chances to renew baptismal promises .....
Shifting Understanding of Lent
With the disappearance of the catechumenate from the Church's life, people's understanding of the season of Lent changed. By the Middle Ages, the emphasis was no longer clearly baptismal. Instead, the main emphasis shifted to the passion and death of Christ. Medieval art reflected this increased focus on the suffering Savior; so did popular piety. Lent came to be seen as a time to acknowledge our guilt for the sins that led to Christ's passion and death. Repentance was then seen as a way to avoid punishment for sin more than as a way to renew our baptismal commitment.
With the gradual disappearance of the Order of Penitents, the use of ashes became detached from its original context. The focus on personal penance and the Sacrament of Penance continued in Lent, but the connection to Baptism was no longer obvious to most people. This is reflected in the formula that came to be associated with the distribution of ashes: "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return." This text focuses on our mortality, as an incentive to take seriously the call to repentance, but there is little hint here of any baptismal meaning. This emphasis on mortality fit well with the medieval experience of life, when the threat of death was always at hand. Many people died very young, and the societal devastation of the plague made death even more prevalent.
Ash Wednesday After Vatican II
The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) called for the renewal of Lent, recovering its ancient baptismal character. This recovery was significantly advanced by the restoration of the catechumenate mandated by the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (1972). As Catholics have increasingly interacted with catechumens in the final stage of their preparation for Baptism, they have begun to understand Lent as a season of baptismal preparation and baptismal renewal.
Since Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, it naturally is also beginning to recover a baptismal focus. One hint of this is the second formula that is offered for the imposition of ashes: "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel." Though it doesn't explicitly mention Baptism, it recalls our baptismal promises to reject sin and profess our faith. It is a clear call to conversion, to that movement away from sin and toward Christ that we have to embrace over and over again through our lives.
As the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday calls us to the conversion journey that marks the season. As the catechumens enter the final stage of their preparation for the Easter sacraments, we are all called to walk with them so that we will be prepared to renew our baptismal promises when Easter arrives ......