With merely a couple of calendar flips behind us from Christmas, it appears that Lent is upon us. Was that a sigh I heard? It’s OK, I’ve done it, too. Not that I don’t care for the penitential season, but I have had my share of Lenten grievances, rather than embraces, in the past.
It’s just that it’s SO HARD. Yes, it is. Why? Because I am human, I am less than perfect and resisting things in this fast paced, self centered, “needs” based world in which we live is hard. I’m used to having things because quite simply, they are there. They are there for me to have. But wait, is Lent really about giving up food and stuff? Not hardly. Not that it’s a bad idea to offer up some type of sacrifice or ‘giving up’ something as we were maybe taught back when we were younger, but we can also challenge ourselves in other ways.
What about doing something extra? What about embracing the sacrifice of even the smallest task (or person) God puts in front of you each day, without so much as a grumble? And what about some extra prayer and quiet time with Jesus? Or even just begin, if you haven’t already made the time, making time for daily prayer. These six weeks aren’t meant as a time of torture, misery and gloomy faces missing their sweets and Friday hamburger. They are here for us, hidden within the ordinary time to serve a purpose.
What is that purpose? Well, obviously it is time for fasting, prayer and sacrifice. It’s the days and weeks when we respond to all that Jesus did for us and they lead up to the holiest week of the Church year.
How I decide to engage in Lent, or what God calls me to this Lent may be vastly different than what he asks of you. Approaching the season with intention and purpose may be a great idea, but also leave some room for God to act and put before you other ways He wants to guide your weeks ahead.
Your season of life and your vocation may not lend itself to a Lenten retreat, daily Mass or even attending stations of the cross with your parish community. Sometimes we need to be creative when thinking of ways to engage fully in a season such as Lent rather than dismissively writing it off due to certain issues that arise for us, or counting on “just doing it next week since Lent is six weeks after all.”
At home, we’ve been known to light extra votive candles while praying a couple of stations of the cross a few evenings a week. We may add in some extra prayer time to our normal evening routine. Along with maybe opting out of a certain food item or sweets, we may each find some other offering unique to only us as we feel called to embrace for this season. I even try to keep simple reminders of the season on the dining table or another place in the living room. Instead of jumping into spring flowers, Easter bunnies and eggs, I’ve used rocks, votive candles, a crucifix and a purple fabric table runner as a decorative focus instead. Again, this is fighting the norm of all that surrounds us on a daily basis, but it also calls us to a focus on Jesus and not on the comforts of our normal everyday life.
Lent is a penitential season, so going to confession or an extra Mass during the week, spending time in Eucharistic adoration, and time spent in prayer are great steps toward deeper growth. Find a spiritual book you can easily pick up and ponder. It doesn’t need to be wordy and heavy, maybe just something that gives you a meditation and short prayer to ponder. Many of our parishes will have these types of books awaiting us near some doorway or gathering space if we look for them.
While Lent can be a time to challenge and stretch us, it’s not necessarily only beneficial if you dive into it with a “go big or go home” attitude. If that’s the way you feel you are being called to practice Lent 2017, good for you! If not, fear not. No matter how big or small the sacrifice, God will bless it and use it for good, whether for you or for another. It’s not a one day competition. It’s a six week journey that leads us to the foot of the cross and to Jesus, who made the ultimate sacrifice. He’ll meet you there.
“Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.”
– Pope Francis