Christmas is easy to celebrate in ways that are fun. But it’s tough to say “Gather round, everybody! It’s time to fast and contemplate our mortality!” at Lent. Still, there are lots of ways to observe this sacred time.
Lent recalls Jesus’ time in the desert, fasting and preparing for his mission of death and resurrection. In the same way, we are to enter into a time of preparation for the Easter mysteries through the three great means of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The idea is greater detachment from the world, the flesh and the devil, and greater attachment to God by the power of the Holy Spirit. God, being generous, is pleased by the smallest movements of the will in his direction and will honor whatever you do toward that. For the newbie, there are a number of traditional things that can be done with the family.
For instance, in the prayer department, many parishes do a simple communal meal on Fridays and listen to a Lenten reading or meditation. If you are exploring the rosary, Lent is a good time to give that a shot. In addition, you can explore things like the Stations of the Cross (don’t forget the 15th station: the Resurrection!) or, if you like, something more creative. Parents might want to give a shot at getting some roses in a vase and, when somebody in the family prays, does a good work or repents a sin, removing a thorn and throwing it away till the roses are all thornless.
To get the hang of fasting, stick with the (very easy) guidelines of the U.S. bishops, which are as follows:
1) Abstinence on all the Fridays of Lent, and on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Catholics 14 and older are bound to abstain from meat. Pregnant and nursing mothers and the sick are exempt.
2) Fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting means having only one full meal to maintain one’s strength. Two smaller meals are permitted according to one’s needs, but they should not together equal the one full meal. Eating solid foods between meals is not permitted. Catholics from 18 through 59 are bound to fast. Again, pregnant and nursing mothers and the sick are exempt.
The idea behind fasting is not punishment but sacrifice (as in “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship”). This, along with virtually the whole Lenten program, is laid out in the opening verses of Romans 12: an offering of body, mind and spirit. If you want to offer spiritual worship, says Paul, offer your body and be transformed by the renewing of your mind. When we offer our bodies (and what is more bodily than our appetite?) we are offering ourselves, including our spirits, to God.
Finally, when it comes to almsgiving, there’s Rice Bowl, where you contribute throughout Lent and then send it off to the poor. Lent is a good time to teach your kids about tithing. Of course, there are other forms of almsgiving than money, such as time and talent. One common Catholic custom is “giving up” something for Lent. Our family has, for instance, given up sugar for Lent, which is both a sacrifice and something we’ve been needing to do. But here again, creativity is encouraged. Some families fast from TV, others “give up” their normal Sundays to go work in a soup kitchen.
That is probably enough to get your toes wet. Lent is a spare time, but not a barren one. It is tonic, not sad. That’s why, on Laetare Sunday, the priest wears rose vestments to remind us that Lent is a joyful time, because the whole point is Easter.
Northwest Catholic - March 2017