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A Meaningful Lent

As we Catholics know, Lent is a 40-day prayer, fasting, and almsgiving season that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. The preparation to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection at Easter, during which we seek the Lord in prayer by reading Sacred Scripture, we serve by giving alms, and we practice self-control through fasting. We are called to an inner conversion of our hearts as we seek to follow Christ more faithfully. But how can we come to a deeper understanding of the season and how best to prepare for Christ’s resurrection? We speak to the local ‘doctors of the Church’ in the Catholic Community of St. Francis, Msgr. Michael Clay, D. Min, Trevor Thompson, D. Min, and Father Jim Sabak, Ph.D., on their reflections on Lent.

Monsignor Clay, as our pastor, leads us off with the fact that, as he says, “One of the great truths of our faith is that we are made in the image and likeness of God (in Latin: imago Dei). Some Christian mystics have captured this truth, saying that the last thing God does before putting a soul into a body is to kiss the soul, a kiss of perfect love from God, who is perfect love.  Someone has called this kiss a ‘microchip of divinity.’ I love this image! Being imago Dei makes us capable of amazingly good things, particularly when we partner with God in bringing love into our world.” This perspective puts a spin on Lent, which many people may find different from the ‘traditional understanding’ of the season. Father Jim also adds his thoughts on the ‘traditional’ view of Lent. “The season of Lent is perhaps the most misunderstood of all the seasons in the Church’s liturgical calendar. For too many decades, nay centuries, Lent has been identified as the season of deprivation – involving sacrifice, penance, fasting, gloomy appearances and outlooks, and a general disassociation with any sort of enjoyment.”

Father Jim continues, “The Latin term for the season, and how the season is known in the Latin texts of the liturgy, is Quadragesima, the Forty Days. These texts describe what Jesus does after his baptism, going into the desert for 40 days where the devil tempts him. He is not doing penance but is readying himself for his mission in the world.” Much as Jesus readied himself for his Father’s mission in the world, it is similarly a time for us to concentrate on how we are ‘being imago Dei’ in the world. “Lent is a season to re-center ourselves around the person we truly are, made in the image and likeness of God, and to repair the damage sin has caused to both us and others through the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Finally, it’s a season when we intentionally celebrate the greatest truth of our Christian faith: that Jesus suffered and died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead to conquer sin and reconcile us to God forever,” says Monsignor Clay.

Of course, Lent involves the three disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, as mentioned above.  Monsignor Clay offers insight: “Prayer re-centers us to the Lord by acknowledging that we are the created, not the creator.  It builds a relationship with the One who has made us in the divine image, so we have a deeper awareness of and insights about who we are and how we are to live as imago Dei. Fasting serves the purpose of emptying ourselves. It is a discipline that makes us consciously aware of things that pull us away from the Lord, allowing us to wean ourselves from affections that lead us astray. Finally, almsgiving places us in solidarity with others and honors them by restoring their hope and dignity as imago Dei.”

Father Jim also adds, “The Church provides three disciplines, which come from Scripture itself in the gospel of Matthew: It is only through prayer that the mysteries of the universe are revealed to us; through fasting, not because we are sinners who require fasting as a punishment, but we fast to ‘feast,’ to make us more aware and appreciative of the gifts God gives us that human hands shape into what becomes the means of Christ’s life shared in our own lives; and almsgiving, which is the fundamental expression of Christian relationship, to realize our concern for one another, for the needs of each other, to help ease the burdens and pain one another experiences.”

A uniquely Franciscan view of ‘fasting,’ spearheaded through the Justice and Peace ministries for the third time this upcoming Lent, is called ‘Greener Lent.’ ‘Greener Lent’ is the creation of a St. Francis parishioner named Rosemary Herhold; it now has a national footprint with participating congregations all over the Triangle and country. In essence, ‘Greener Lent’ is a project that invites individuals to an ecologically-themed Lent communal fast,” explains Justice and Peace Director Trevor Thompson. “Fasting as a traditional practice of Lent helps to prepare our hearts for the invitation to new life in Christ and seek to follow Christ’s will more faithfully. ‘Greener Lent’ invites individuals to sign-up to align their Lenten sacrifices with our call to care for God’s creation and to love our neighbors,” he adds. These thoughts align with Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’, ‘Caring for our Common Home.’ Pope Francis writes, “We need a new ecological approach and spirituality that can transform our way of dwelling in the world, our styles of life, our relationship with the resources of the Earth and, in general, our way of looking at humanity and of living life.”

The idea of ‘Greener Lent’ fits well with this thought. During ‘Greener Lent,’ “people will hear how abstaining from meat reduces our contribution to CO2 emissions and thereby, in whatever small way, reduces our contribution to climate change. Because climate change most deeply affects the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, those we may not know personally but who we help through the Lenten abstinence, it’s a way of loving our neighbor. ‘Greener Lent’ is a beautiful opportunity to consider how our spiritual sacrifices and practices have real material and social consequences.”

Father Jim completes his thoughts by suggesting that “rather than Christmas, Lent is the season of giving! On Christmas, we receive, while during Lent, we give.” He laments that “society and culture do not understand this idea and turn Christmas into a consumeristic exercise based so often on superficial gift-giving. Instead, Lent asks more of us as believers; to give of ourselves from our hearts out of genuine concern for each other, even if we do not know who that ‘other’ is.” This idea is well in line with our responsibility to others worldwide, mirrored in the concepts of ‘Greener Lent.’

We hope you all have a meaningful Lenten experience and a joyful celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter. Information about the Lenten experience at St. Francis of Assisi can be found here. The Justice and Peace ministries office is sponsoring Lenten Service Sundays – 2/26, 3/12, and 3/26. You can volunteer to help on these Sundays at the St. Francis Serves website. If you are interested in joining ‘Greener Lent,’ please see visit here for more information. 

Author: Mike Watson