It is a week or so before the beginning of Lent, and I find myself cringing a bit. We just finished Christmas, for goodness sake! I still have a plastic box of Christmas snow globes on the top of the piano that I haven’t yet put away. And now, we’re edging up on to Lent already? How am I supposed to ‘get my head in the game’?
Because, I really DO want my head in the game.
Just as late winter brings about the desire for cleaning and purging our homes in anticipation for Spring, our hearts naturally yearn for restoration… we know something good is coming, but this ‘good’ requires something of us.
So, there is Lent. Let us join in.
But, as all parents (or any busy person) know, Lent is different when you’re the one in charge. A good Lent takes effort. A good Lent requires purpose. A good Lent has to be intentional, or it quickly becomes a mishmash of Church requirements, prayer cards, symbols and rituals that can lose meaning if we’re not focused.
Here are a few tips that I hope will help me live an intentional Lent in 2013:
- Remember What It’s All About: Catholic Culture says, “Lent is the penitential season of approximately 40 days set aside by the Church in order for the faithful to prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. During this holy season, inextricably connected to the Paschal Mystery, the Catechumens prepare for Christian initiation, and current Church members prepare for Easter by a recalling of Baptism and by works of penance, that is, prayer, fasting and almsgiving.” Lent is NOT about busying myself with so many activities, crafts, prayers and sacrifices that I forget its purpose. This simple statement does well to keep my mind focused.
- Lent is not about YOU: When I was a ‘new’ Catholic, I would attempt to offer up numerous things for Lent. Simple, ill-placed logic told me, “The more I offered up, the better the Lent!” Well, in reality, I just ended up frustrating myself… trying to keep up with all those self-imposed rules. I also later realized that these ‘sacrifices’ made me focus way to much on myself and not nearly enough on Jesus and those around me. In a way, I had allowed my offerings to become a competition – within myself (could I REALLY pull this off for 6 weeks!?) and with others (I wonder what they’re giving up…). Make your Lent about Jesus, not about you. Our offerings, sacrifices, prayers, participation should all be things that turn us away from ourselves and point our minds, hearts and bodies toward Christ.
- Choose a few good things: When we DO choose something to offer up for Lent, we need to choose wisely. Generally, I like to give up one thing that is a challenge for me (this almost always revolves around sugar) and then add in something that will help my faith life grow (pray the Rosary daily, read the Gospel with the family each morning, read a spiritual classic). In the same way, I try to find something that I can do for others – my almsgiving. This might be volunteering at the parish, taking food to the food bank, collecting clothes for the pregnancy center. Keep things simple, don’t let them become overwhelming.
- Don’t get distracted by the peripherals: This is mostly for us parents. Or mostly for me. (I might be the only one with this problem. If so, you can skip on down to #5) It’s one thing to prepare for Lent for myself… it’s quite another to prepare Lent for my family. I have at least a dozen books on my shelf, giving tips on how to live the liturgical year as a family. Crafts, recipes, songs, skits, more crafts, more recipes… There is an endless plethora of ideas! I could ‘do Lent’ for 500 years and never run out of new activities. Don’t get me wrong, these are wonderful resources. However, the purpose of celebrating Lent as a family is not to bombard everyone with innumerable purple crafts and activities. Our Lent does not necessarily become holier with the increasing number of pages we check off in our activity book. I think that a few activities are good – especially with the little ones. A few simple crafts and tangible activities to help ‘make real’ the life of Lent. Choose a few of these, and take the time to enjoy them. But be sure to place equal effort into evening prayer, reading scripture and parish participation.
- Cling to the Church: The older I get (I’m not THAT old, mind you) the more I realize that the Church really offers me and my family all we need to celebrate the season of Lent perfectly. A full participation in parish activities leads us to a rich and holy Lent. I promise. Make a concerted effort to go to your penance service, daily Mass (maybe even just once a week, before Stations?) and adoration. Get a list of your RCIA program’s candidates and catechumens. Pray for them. Write them a note of encouragement. Have your kids draw them squiggly pictures. They’ll love it! Does your parish have a soup supper? GO! Even if you don’t like soup! Sit with someone you don’t know and make a new friend. Find the person who is alone, and be sure to invite them to sit with you. Go to Stations of the Cross. Take your children. Give them a Stations booklet. Let them kneel and stand and genuflect, or let them simply sit by and watch. Let them listen to the holy and solemn hymns. They will soak in the beautiful words, the events of the crucifixion, the reverence of everyone in the church, kneeling, standing, praying, singing together. They will know that this is something ‘set apart’. The camaraderie of joining with fellow Catholics in our parish makes our Lenten journey more fulfilling and beautiful.
As one of my children said last year after Stations of the Cross, as the people milled around waiting for soup to be served, “Mom, I wasn’t sure that I LIKED Lent. But,when we’re all here together, it’s like we’re on a mission all together. But, we know how it ends up… It’s kind of exciting!”
Yes! Amen, you little cutie pie!
This is the mission of walking with Jesus during his last days. The mission of standing beside him during his suffering and death. But, we are the lucky ones. Unlike those friends of Christ in Jerusalem, we KNOW what happens. There is a secret, whispering joy about Lent.
“Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting…
Blow the trumpet in Zion! proclaim a fast, call an assembly;
Gather the people, notify the congregation;
Assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast;
Let the bridegroom quit his room and the bride her chamber.
In an acceptable time I heard you,
and on the day of salvation I helped you.
Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.”
- Joel 2, from the readings for Ash Wednesday
How about you? What helps you keep your focus during Lent?