A Lesson of the Lenten Season

The Christian world entered the season of Lent almost two weeks ago – the ~40 days leading up to the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.  The Catholic Church teaches there are three tenets of Lent: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.

Growing up Catholic, every Lent would kick off with us heading to our local church for the Ash Wednesday Mass, and then we would “give up something” from that day on, until Easter Sunday.  I didn’t even know, until I was in college, that I could have a Sunday reprieve from what I had given up for the duration of Lent.

Each year, I struggled with ideas of what to abstain from – some years it was chocolate, other years it has been “caffeinated beverages,” and still, other years it was Facebook.  However, each year, I felt as though I was an abject failure, because I would get a few days into Lent, maybe make it a couple weeks, and then give in to temptation.  On the rare year that I went the entirety of Lent without slipping, I would be so proud of “ridding myself of my vice” for those forty days, and then go right back to them Easter morning, that I kind of lost the meaning of why I had abstained from the vice during Lent in the first place.

This year, there has been a lot of conversation on social media, promoting the speech Pope Francis gave in October 2014.  I have read so many blogs saying, “The Pope says to not give up chocolate for Lent!  Do something different for Lent this year!”  They further go into the explanation that it’s okay to eat chocolate, but instead, give up…

Indifference!

As a self-proclaimed “perfectionist in recovery,” I am going to say right now – the thought of “giving up indifference,” is a daunting prospect.  It makes me want to crawl under a rock for the next 40 days, because if I can’t give up other, more tangible vices for 40 days, how in the world am I going to give up something as major, and abstract, as “indifference”?!

Faced with that daunting prospect, I went directly to the source.  I read the “Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for Lent 2015,” entitled, “Make your hearts firm (Jas 5:8).”  You can find the document at the following website:    http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/lent/documents/papa-francesco_20141004_messaggio-quaresima2015.html

Instead of saying one can’t give up chocolate, Pope Francis gives ideas as to ways in which to retain the true value of the season of Lent – to ensure we are paving a way in our hearts for God, and to increase our relationship with Him.  The Pope points out that, usually, when things are copacetic in our lives, we have a tendency to forget to continue furthering our relationship with God; but, we turn to Him when we are in trouble.  The Pope challenges us this Lent to turn inward to God, by turning outward to others.

The Pope’s letter references ways in which the Church as a global entity can draw closer to God this Lenten season, and ways in which the Parishes and Communities can fulfill their Lenten obligation.  He closes with ideas for the individual who help comprise the Church – for you and me.

Those ideas include: praying in communion with the Church;  helping through acts of charity; and lastly, recognizing both others’ suffering, while still recognizing one’s personal limitations.  The key of that third point, personally, is when the Pope says: “We will also be able to resist the diabolical temptation of thinking that by our own efforts we can save the world and ourselves.”

When I read his statement, I realized, the Pope touched on every aspect of Lent: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.  He challenges us as Christians to remember the true meaning of Lent.

With that said, everyone is on their own journey of faith with God.  This year, I went into this season of Lent, before having read the Pope’s message for Lent, with the idea that I am curbing, not ceasing, my Facebook usage.  Instead, when tempted to pick up the phone to check Facebook, I am making it a point to say a prayer (the Rosary, in particular), or work on reading a spiritually based book.

About a year ago, I spoke with a priest during Confession, and asked him what I could do, in my season of life, for the world – it’s not like I can give all my money away to those who need it, since there are always bills to pay; I can’t quite just go be a missionary somewhere, since I have commitments to my family, and the last I heard, it would not be wise for a mother to abandon her family to head off to help the world.  The priest’s advice was, when all else fails and you have other commitments, the best thing you can do is to pray for the world.  So, taking that priest’s advice, and the Pope’s letter into account, I’m pretty sure I will add an element to my daily prayers to pray for those persecuted for their faith in the world, and for the conversion of hearts for those doing the persecuting.

So, if you want to give up chocolate as a personal goal for Lent, and you are using that to build your relationship with God, I challenge you – to add a segment of prayer.  When you think of chocolate, say a simple prayer to God.  When you see the panhandler on the street, think of God and say a prayer, if that is the least you can do.  When you are yelling at your dog for running around the house with a bloody paw, instead of sitting still (yes, true story), you can remind yourself of God’s blessings in your life.  When you are marveling at the warmth you feel in your home, or the wonder of your child as they explore a new milestone, remember to thank God for those “small comforts.”  If you can, donate to a charity this Lent – do so, not so much as a tax incentive for next year’s taxes, but because you know there are others out there that will benefit more from what you have that you may no longer need.

In my opinion, keeping God first, and foremost in your mind, will be the key to letting go of “indifference.”

In closing, as I reflect on the message about Lent, from the Holy Father, I recall the passage from Matthew 17:20 – “He said to them, “Because of your little faith.  For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”  We should strive, this Lent, to remember that without Him (God), we are nothing; with Him, we are everything.  Perhaps taking this approach and remembering this message about needing God to do right by, and for, others, I will complete Lent with the true meaning and purpose this year.

A free printable for you:
Crown of Thorns
Download here:  Crown of Thorns Printable

“A Lesson of the Lenten Season” contributed by AnnAliese Harry.

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