February 26, 2016

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Is there a modern way to celebrate the Lenten season?

Cynthia DewesLent sure ain’t what it used to be. In the past, people actually prepared themselves for 40 days of deprivation due to fasting and abstinence, etc. They got out of bed to go early to daily Mass, and went to Stations of the Cross once a week. They read more Scripture, and spent more time in private prayer. In short, they were preparing themselves to really appreciate the glory of Easter Sunday.

To kids, I’m sure it was kind of a chore to be dragged to extra time in church, to make a good confession and the like. They produced lists of reformed behaviors to give to Mom. But I think the meaning of Lent was made clear to them in those practices, as well as the meaning of Easter. Somehow, it made both events special.

Today we need to make a more directed personal effort to celebrate Lent and Easter. No one is obliging us to curb our eating, or give up meat or strain ourselves in some way. Of course, we honor the current Lenten requirements for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday observances, as well as the Fridays of Lent. But somehow, without some of the previous rules to structure our behavior, we may find it harder to make a “good” Lent with the subsequent relief and joy of Easter.

Now it’s really up to us. We can’t lean on Church requirements and Sister’s strict orders to keep us focused on the Lenten journey. So maybe we should think about more positive ways to celebrate these 40 days.

Fasting is one of the cornerstones of Lenten practice. We need to limit our eating and not indulge in rich foods or drink, or whatever tempting palate pleaser presents itself. But, to take it a step further, maybe we could regularly share food in some way with those less fortunate people who go hungry or malnourished. We can contribute more generously to food drives or volunteer help at soup kitchens. We can be alert to hunger among people we encounter in our communities, and try to offer solutions.

To me, the word “almsgiving” always conjures up a medieval scene with some aristocrat on a horse tossing a few pennies to a tattered beggar. But today, it means sharing what we have with others, always remembering the scriptural admonition not to let the right hand know what the left hand is doing. And realizing later, also as it says in Scripture, that God can never be outdone in generosity.

Prayer is an essential part of Lenten practice, and the Church continues to offer opportunities for communal prayer, repentance and observing the Stations of the Cross, among other things. And there are many resources available for aiding private prayer, such as devotional books, films and CDs. Inspirational music conducive to prayer can be found in recordings to use at home.

It’s hard to describe the rewards which come from fasting, almsgiving and prayer because they are so personal. Only the individual can know the satisfaction, peace and joy that can accompany these practices. They are what make up what we used to call making a “good” Lent.

We may not have the strictness of the old days to help us enrich our Lent, but we always have freewill to do it for ourselves. That, among so many other things, is one of the rewards that Easter brings.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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