A friend of mine is giving a talk about Lent to her church's RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) group. So to prepare she decided to ask others a few questions and get their thoughts about Lent and then share them with the RCIA group. (RCIA, by the way, is the program you go through if you are becoming Catholic, or even coming back to the Church after a long hiatus and want to brush up on the Church's teachings.)
For those who don't know, Lent is a forty day penitential season in the Church year when members of Christ's Church here on earth make a sacrifice of some kind or add some sort of spiritual practice to our day that we do not normally do; in addition Catholics and Orthodox Christians also abstain from meat every Friday. During this time of year, you'll find Catholic and Orthodox churches offering more frequent times for receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, there are Lenten Missions, and often the Praying of the Stations of the Cross every Friday. The basis for this practice in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is the Temptation in the Desert (Mt 4:1-2, Mk 1:12-13, and Lk 4:1-2). Lent starts this coming Wednesday, Feb. 17. We'll fast that day (two small meals, one regular size meal, only water, no snacks) and we'll go to Mass and receive ashes on our foreheads as a reminder that we came from ashes and will return to ashes. It's quite moving to be reminded of your mortal nature and dependence on God at this time every year! And from there, Lent starts and lasts until Holy Week (more on Holy Week at a later time!).
So now on to the discussion of my friend's questions about Lent:
1. Do you have a memorable Lenten experience?
I don't know that I could say that any Lent has ever been particularly memorable. I do remember things I've given up and how that was during that time. One that came to mind was the year I gave up TV. I allowed myself only a half hour a day that had to be news/weather and nothing else. I don't think I even watched any DVD movies either. The best part was that by not watching TV I had more time to read and I made sure to read spiritually based books (trash novels didn't seem appropriate). Once Lent was over, I continued not watching much TV for several months. It was really great!! Unfortunately, that is no longer the case!
2. What does Lent mean to you?
As a kid it was kind of a drudgery, as I got a little older it was mostly just a way to remind myself of my new year's resolutions (seemed a good time for it). Now, as an adult, having come back to the faith, it means a lot more, not even sure I can put it into words. I love the idea of sacrifice, and I know that nothing I could ever sacrifice can come close to Christ's sacrifice for us, which just makes the idea of giving up chocolate or TV or whatever seem so small. I also love that during the Mass we do not sing the Gloria and then when we get to Easter we have such an incredibly joyous Mass, with the Gloria and everything!! I also have a huge appreciation for Holy Week. I try to go to everything during Holy Week (Tenebre, which is done at the Cathedral, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday), it is the church at her best!
3. Why do you Love Lent?
I think I might have answered that above. But I can add that I love how the church seems to come together more. More people are at Daily Mass, there is always a Lenten Mission, Stations of the Cross every Friday, and people always make the time to come to reconciliation during Lent. It's like a family holiday where the whole church family finally shows up. That's really awesome!
4. How does Lent prepare you for Easter?
For me the highly penitential nature of Lent makes Easter so incredibly joyous! Also, by making some sort of regular sacrifice or adding some form of regular prayer to my day that I don't normally do, I think my mind is more focused and I'm more aware of Christ's presence by the time we get to Easter.
As for this year's sacrifice, I haven't yet decided. Only a few days to go, though!! Last year I added in saying the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day. That was a challenge on weekends, but pretty easy during the week day (I scheduled it on my calendar!). I think the year before that I gave up chocolate. This year I would like to do something that adds to my spiritual growth. I'm considering reading a specified section or two (or three??) of the Catechism, or maybe reading one spiritual book a week, which would be hard since it seems to take me weeks and weeks to read just one these days! Hopefully I'll decide soon.
I wish everyone a Lent full of thoughtful growth in your spiritual lives and sacrifices that make a difference in your understanding of God's gifts to you. What a wonderful gift Lent is as a preparation for the joyfulness of Easter when we celebrate the Resurrection! May Lent be good to you this year!