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For the last couple of weeks, my kids have been talking about Lent and what they are thinking about giving up. Xbox, school, and candy have been the biggest suggestions! These, I guess, are their ideas for truly sacrificing & experiencing Lent.
I know they don’t fully understand the reasons or the full ‘why‘ we are doing this, but the truth is I don’t think any of us can really appreciate the whole meaning or spiritual benefit behind denying ourselves some kind of luxury, food or comfort during these next 40 days.
Easter – Before I Was Catholic
As a young girl, I was brought up Protestant. Pentecostal to be precise. I had never heard of Lent or much on the subject of giving up something or fasting for any length of time.
We just knew about Easter: we knew it was the day we celebrate that Jesus rose from the tomb. My sisters and I also expected new Easter dresses, Easter baskets, an Easter egg hunt, attending church and a big ham dinner on Easter Day. That was our Celebration.
Plus, right as soon as Easter candy was in the store, around February first, there was always a bowl of it somewhere in the house for easy snacking – because it was “Easter time”.
I never would have entertained any thought of not having Cadbury’s, Robin eggs or jelly beans before Easter.
Giving up some kind of luxury & sharing in Jesus forty days fasting and praying as he did in the desert, all for a deeper spiritual experience was certainly not on my radar or an idea I was familiar with.
But now, as a Catholic, I look at the whole season before Easter Day and Easter Season to follow, in a different way entirely.
I have come to not only to know and expect Lent, I have come to look forward to it and, believe it or not, love it.
A Time to Rend Your Heart
Rend your hearts and not your garments,
and return to the Lord, your God,Joel 2: 13
In today’s Scripture reading, we are told to ‘rend’ our hearts. This means to ‘tear’ or ‘open up’. Meaning open our hearts to all that God has for us and allow him to enter, heal the broken places and then fill it with His Spirit.
The Church in all her Wisdom tells us exactly how we can accomplish this. We do this by praying, fasting and giving alms. These three things take us outside of our seeking instant gratification, out of thinking only of ourselves, and cause us to look at life differently. This is how we rend our hearts.
During your preparation for living out Lent, you can step back and take a real good look at your life, and decide if you are happy with your relationship with Jesus, the way you live out your Christian daily life, how you love your neighbor – those you encounter every day. And how you love and care for yourself.
If these areas need some attention don’t worry. Jesus has given us a simple and powerful remedy for every one of these.
Lent gives you an opportunity to examine the ‘Fruits’ and virtues that you may be lacking in. He gives us the exact tools and path to follow in order to heal, repair and grow in these areas.
By taking a look at these very places in my life that need attention, it creates in me a real desire in me to pick myself up, dust myself off and begin to want to be better, to grow in those areas where I am lacking, and to grow into the person I ought to.
Yes, you can do this any time of the year, on your own schedule. But being Catholic and observing Lent gives us an opportunity to walk with the whole Church and offer a deeper and definitely more powerful experience of it all.
At the onset of Lent, which is Ash Wednesday, all Catholics that attend Mass will receive ashes on their foreheads. These are to signify that we came from dust and to dust, we shall return.
It also signifies the beginning of our own spiritual journey to Calvary – Good Friday – and then to look forward to Eternal Life – Easter – if we so choose.
How The Church Leads Us
The Church has put into place ‘reminders’ all along our journey through Lent. We are gently reminded daily of the Season we are in.
Even the color violet that we associate with Lent and see at Mass has meaning – it represents penance and humility. Doesn’t that describe Lent perfectly?
All of these seemingly little details have always helped me so much! Especially, when I first became Catholic and entered the Church.
The ‘Reminders’ the Church Provides
So, what has the Church specifically given us? Let’s take a look.
- The daily Scripture readings – These all help guide and lead you week by week to Good Friday and the Crucifixion of our Lord. A lot of parishes actually hand out little Lent books for just this purpose. You get a daily Scripture reading resource – that is always a good and fruitful thing.
- You also will have the opportunity to experience, in a deeper way, the Crucifixion Of our Lord each Friday through Lent by participating in the Stations of the Cross also known as The Way of the Cross. This is presented & prayed by the local Parish. Through prayer and meditation, you actually walk with Jesus & Mary as he is condemned and sentenced to death, and carries His Cross along the road to Calvary then is crucified. You gain a deeper sense of what they experienced and went through as Jesus was led through Jerusalem and up the Hill to be nailed to the cross and ultimately die. You can truly feel the suffering of Jesus and of his mother who watches the whole thing silently from a very close distance. If you have never been I very much recommend you go, at least once, and experience it for yourself.
- Most parishes also offer Bible Studies or Faith Sharing groups that run through Lent. It is a great opportunity to connect with your fellow brothers and sisters in the Faith whom you share a pew with each Mass but, may not even know their name.
Why Participate? – Because it’s bigger than just you
Participation in all that the Church has to offer for Lent resources is so important.
This gives you a sense of the ‘bigger picture’ Lent is a season, a gift for us, that should be embraced and lived by all Catholics. When you participate in these different activities, you get a sense of being part of a community and a part of a bigger family.
We are all praying, fasting and giving on a bigger scale that includes more than just our own local Church where we worship. All Catholics together, at the same time, all over the world are participating – what a powerful prayer and movement of the Spirit leading us to Easter Morning.
I think this is such a wonderful thought to ponder. We know as Catholics that all of the Religious, the Priests and even the Pope are reading the Scripture readings we are reading each day and fasting on the days we are fasting.
They are also participating in the Way of the Cross, and deeper Scripture study in much the same way as we are.
As you journey through the next forty days alongside your extended Catholic family it can’t help but be a wonderful and comforting feeling knowing that you are not just traveling alone with Jesus.
All of your brothers and sisters are walking with Him too – We are all fasting, praying, and reaching out to those in need as we grow in our spiritual life.
Sure, at times, you should fast and pray in secret as the Lord commands. But Lent gives you the opportunity to join your individual prayer with the whole Church. “Where two or more are gathered… “
Lent is so big that you are taking this time to pray not only for your needs but for the needs of the whole world and Church – for the concerns that face us all, such as the respect of life and life eternal.
Where To Begin for Experiencing Lent
Begin with your local Parish. Where you go to Church. Look for any Lenten Supplies that may be offered for you there (books and such).
Read the bulletin and find out when things are happening. Then show up for those Lent ‘specific’ happenings.
Doing What The Church Suggests
The Church holds that Lent is for Prayer, Fasting & Alms Giving. If you commit and truly try to do just these things throughout Lent, you can’t help but arrive at Easter with many blessings.
1) Pray daily and often, Read Scripture, Attend Daily Mass or Mass two times instead of once a week.
2) Fast. From Food, or some other comfort. Replace that empty space with prayer, Mass or Scripture Reading
3) Give to those who you see in your life that may need something. Maybe they need your time, prayer or even a favor
What you do doesn’t have to be perfect. Just do- 1+ -your best plus one step better!
Each Lent Season since I became Catholic has not only deepened my faith, it has also made me step outside of myself. To begin to really see myself as God does and to begin to move in a direction that will deepen my knowledge of that love and of Him. I don’t believe I would have discovered it any other way.
Through my observance of Lent, I have a deeper sense of just what Jesus did for me and how much he truly loves me as this individual daughter of his. I have also learned to try to love and appreciate those around me in a much more present & complete way.
My past 21 Lents have not been perfect and I have never followed my plans for Lent exactly – I have forgotten what specific fasts or Scripture readings I committed to do for Lent all-together.
A lapse in thinking has found me with a mouth full of chocolate, or meat on Fridays during Lent – oops
But even during my obvious failings, I always have received His Grace and Blessing.
I guess it is because I have wanted what He has desired for me. To spend time with Him journeying and learning about Him and why He suffered and died for me. And simply looking to Him for my peace and joy.
I have tried to humbly follow His lead.
With a little preparation, participation, and commitment, this could be your best Lent Yet. One where you will receive all those blessings you hoped for and those you did not even expect.