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Posts Tagged ‘Lenten practice’

dark-journey

Ash Wednesday, 2017, Lent has begun. Some people have not yet decided what they are doing for Lent. To people in this situation, I heard someone say, “Don’t worry about preparing for Lent because Lent is a preparation.” The implication being that one does not prepare for preparing. This way of looking at Lent – a preparation – is rather common today. The thought is that as we progress through Lent we are preparing for Easter. So ingrained has this thought become that some are genuinely puzzled by the idea of preparing for Lent. This was once expressed to me by a priest when I had mentioned to him that Lent is preceded by weeks of preparation (both liturgical and practical) in the Byzantine churches. It sounded strange to the priest that there would be a preparation for the preparation.

Is Lent a preparation? Is being a preparation the best way to think about Lent?

It’s not wrong to think about Lent as a preparation, but it is important to recognize that there are different kinds of preparing. Context is everything. Lent is a preparatory movement. It is a journey, and it is this which gives the context and proper understanding for Lent being preparatory.

Rock climber on the edge.

The long arduous journey of Lent is not too dissimilar from the above picture. The women in this picture didn’t just begin her journey up the face of the mountain. No, her journey was preceded by a lot of preparation. She had to live a certain way, abstain from certain things. She does not become disciplined, strong, and persevering by climbing the mountain. She had to be all of that before she began her journey.

There is a significant difference between the journey of Lent and the journey of the woman above: she climbs the mountain because it is there to be climbed and she experiences a pleasure and satisfaction that she would not otherwise get, she takes the journey for its own sake. Not so with Lent. Let us imagine that this woman comes to the top of the mountain and takes in the grandeur and beauty of the view from the mountaintop. She then turns her back to the view and faces away from cliff’s edge. Before her lies a new country and new life, a country and life only accessible by climbing the mountain. The climb prepared and enabled her to live this new life well and to enter into it fully. But so did the preparation prior to the climb; in fact, the prior preparation was necessary.

So many people speak of Lent as being successful or unsuccessful. They express wanting a successful Lent, which is why it is typical for people to spend so much time weighing what they will or will not do. At the end of this season of Lent, there will be many people who will look back with dissatisfaction. Many will think they did not journey well, that they did not prepare well for new life in the Resurrection. Contra popular opinion, perhaps one of the reasons is because we no longer practice a preparation for the preparation in the Roman church.

It wasn’t always this way. Up until the new calendar of Bl. Paul VI was introduced, the Church celebrated pre-Lenten Sundays, the purpose of which was to prepare the faithful for the arduous journey of Lent. This is still done by those communities and orders who use the extraordinary calendar. The Byzantine churches also maintain their own particular tradition of pre-Lenten Sundays. One may reasonably ask, however, if the Church of Rome actually needs these pre-Lenten Sundays. After all, Lent isn’t exactly difficult in the Latin rite anymore. It doesn’t really seem like there is much to prepare for. Considering the current state of the practice of Lent in the West, could this point not only to our needing pre-Lenten Sundays again, but also to our needing a return to a more traditional practice of Lent? I am hopeful for the return of both in my lifetime.

A blessed Lent to you all. +

 

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Last year for the beginning of Lent I wrote a post, “The Deconstruction of Lent”, on the need to have a greater awareness of the communal character of Lent in the life of the Church rather than making Lent an individualized affair: HERE. A couple of weeks after that I wrote another Lenten post, “Combatting Porn During Lent”, the main point of which was to draw attention to our need to allow ourselves to be formed by God rather than thinking of Lent as an opportunity to form ourselves: HERE.

Lent is fast approaching – Wednesday, March 1. I don’t know about you, but I can often drive myself crazy trying to figure out what I should give up for Lent or what additional practices I should take on. But what if the answer is nothing? Lent and its disciplines are not something we put on ourselves. It is part of the Life in which we live. What if God simply calls us to live that life: to be faithful in our participation at Sunday Mass, our fasting, and our Friday abstentions. What if He simply wants us to be formed by Lent by participating in the various Lenten traditions of our parish: Stations of the Cross, Lenten missions, soup dinners and fish fries. God doesn’t wait until Lent to call us nearer to Him. Lent is strengthening for that journey already begun. Perhaps there are disciplines He has called you to and Lent is simply a time to persevere in those disciplines, disciplines which may fall away if we cover them with others. If you are still considering what it is God is calling you to do in the coming week, remember, Lent isn’t meant to be complicated; it just needs to be lived. May God bestow His grace upon you abundantly and may you have a blessed and holy Lent.

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Battle Between Carnival and Lent

Battle Between Carnival and Lent, Jan M. Molenaer

The above painting is not what the reality should be, yet it is better than what the reality now is. There is an intimate connection between Carnival (Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras) and Lent. We’ve lost the former and we have been progressively losing the latter.

In the Roman Church, Lent is not exactly an austere season. It’s penitential, but there isn’t a lot asked of Roman Catholics by the Church. All that is required is to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (the fast isn’t strict either), and to abstain from meat on Friday. This is all; nothing more. In addition, it is customary for people to give something up. This is devotional. One is not required to do this nor is one bound to keep their private observance. They also set the conditions for their observance. The biggest thing on people’s minds is “What am I giving up for Lent?” With large parish communities and very little regular one-on-one spiritual direction this became a question for the individual without real assistance from another qualified person in the spiritual life. This and other various reasons led to Lent becoming a highly individualized affair. The problem is that living in the Church is not an individual affair.

We are one body and the life of the Christian can only be lived in the communion of the Church. Lenten practice becoming highly individualized has resulted in a weaker awareness of the meaning of Lent. This has resulted in a plethora of blog posts, programs, and opinion pieces on how to make the practice of Lent truly fruitful or even “the best Lent ever.” There are more and more attention-getters saying, “Don’t give up chocolate. Do this instead.” Sometimes “this” refers to other pleasures to give up such as hot showers. Other times “this” refers to something like a book study or daily devotionals sent by email. The problem is that Lent is a penitential season and some of these are not penitential acts or they are penitential in a disordered way. But this isn’t about penance for penance’s sake.

Sheen - Lent

Our Lenten practices should draw us nearer to God and do so in accord with the distinctiveness of the season as opposed to other seasons of the year. Book studies and daily reflections are good, but they aren’t distinctive to Lent. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be part of one’s Lenten practice. The problem is we are starting to see them pitted against traditional Lenten practices that are rooted in the Church’s life. We are starting to be told that attending a book study or receiving daily reflections in our email can take the place of abstinence. There is no opposition here though. In what way does going to a book study or receiving daily reflections oppose giving something up? This increasing movement of promoting a Lent with meaning is being done without reason at the expense of a good and strong Catholic custom.

It is not simply about giving something up though. Venerable Sheen’s words help us here as well. What does giving up hot showers benefit us if there is no change in our prayer? What does it benefit us if it does not prompt us to give alms for those who do not have a choice in whether they take a cold shower or not – and by this I mean our neighbors right here in the United States? What does it benefit us if we persist in a compulsive use of the things in our life, a compulsive use that takes us from God? (The writer who recommended giving up hot showers said nothing about prayer, almsgiving, or time given to God. It basically boiled down to: “Yes, it sucks, but Jesus died on the Cross for you, so…”). Abstaining from certain foods and drinks on the other hand gives us reminders throughout the day to turn to God. The physical feelings and the desires we experience prompt us to raise our minds and hearts to God. They also teach through experience detachment (as does increased almsgiving) which frees the soul to give of itself to God and others.

When confusion abounds and practice goes in so many different directions, some of which may be dubious, it is time to go back to basics. No season of the liturgical year is ultra-individualized in its practice and this includes Lent. Living a Christian life means living an ecclesial life. The Church does give a Lenten life – other practices in addition to what is required. In the United States of America the following are commonly practiced in Roman Catholic parishes during Lent:

  1. Stations of the Cross every Friday
  2. Having a soup supper as a community after praying the Stations of the Cross every Friday
  3. Reconciliation services
  4. 24 Hours for the Lord
  5. Lenten missions (usually two to three consecutive evenings)
  6. Fish fries

Participating in a greater part of the Church’s liturgical and communal life is the foundation for living the life in Christ and drawing nearer to God. The liturgical and communal life of the Church should be the basis for our Lenten practices. Finally, there are ways of participating in the life of the Church through common customs. In the Roman Catholic Church giving something up for Lent is one of these customs. Let us embrace it.

 

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