Does that title make you think the writer might be a bit jaded about Lent? Or, did the title give a hint that the writer is excited that Lent is here again?
For most of us Christians, Lent can offer mixed emotions. It is a time of repentance (a sinner … who, me?). To be reminded that we need to repent is not always welcome, although necessary. Those ashes leave no doubt about the effects of original sin. Six weeks seems like a long time on Ash Wednesday, so what will we do for six weeks? In grammar school we all “gave up” something, usually candy. Then Vatican II said it was better to “give to” someone or some cause. So we gave to the poor and the homeless. The question is, did we really give up that candy, did we really give to the poor and homeless and did that make our Lent a success? Somehow, both of these practices, although born of good intentions, do not satisfy in the long term. Jesus gave up his life for us. Although Jesus is not looking for pay back, he does give his all … for us.
With that sobering thought, it is impossible to even fathom what would be appropriate to give Lent some meaning. Yet Jesus did become one of us, and forevermore we are ennobled by that fact. Certainly he will understand our very human dilemma. And, perhaps by looking at his early life, we may find some response.
Jesus spent about thirty years in a private setting, his home town of Nazareth. What was he doing? We don’t know exactly but we may surmise that he was taking care of his mother and father, the family business, prayer, the day-to-day events of life in a small town. How many people did he touch? What impact did he have? One of history’s mysteries, as they say. We might liken those days to our own lives. All of us care for people, oversee our finances, pray, live some days as if they had meaning and others as if we are glad to get them out of the way. What people do we touch? What impact do we have? This does not have to be a mystery.
For Lent, we might see a new opportunity in our care for others. How often do we greet the homeless person we meet on the street? When did we sort through our good clothes to donate to a resale shop which serves the poor? What about the old cell phones or eyeglasses? Why have we not called or visited that friend or relative who thinks we are too busy to care?
For Lent, we could check our personal economic situation. Have we remembered the scholarship which gave us our future may be needed by someone else now? What about buying food for the homeless regularly? Is there one charity which would really appreciate our financial help however small?
For Lent, renewed prayer is a goal. What about some spiritual reading? Is there a Bible study group to join? When is the last time the sacrament of reconciliation was received? Is there a particular person or situation for which prayer is the only answer?
For Lent, we should strive to make every day meaningful. How about a “to do” list where we check off a personally challenging action every day? What might we do with a real understanding of love of neighbor? How can we work on inner peace? What concerns do we have about the political situation in light of our faith?
None of these suggestions are strictly Lenten practices nor are they new ideas. Most of them are not very difficult either. However, one of them may strike a chord due to its simplicity. Lent does not have to be faced as a monumental undertaking in order to have meaning. Jesus lived for thirty years in relative obscurity so he just might appreciate something less obvious. Perhaps it is time to try something new in order to get meaning back into Lent. Jesus spent those thirty years as a regular member of his community. Whatever we decide to do, there is Jesus at the heart of Lent, encouraging us, teaching us, and always walking with us.
Phyllis Pregiato teaches in the theology department at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Connecticut.
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