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home : bishop : columns

3/5/2015 9:00:00 AM
BISHOP'S COLUMN
Don't do Lent alone

'Your church bulletin has all the listings of the liturgical celebrations throughout Lent: Mass, Stations of the Cross, penance services and so on. One of the things that helps us understand why Jesus founded a Church community is to actually experience how well it works when people come together around Him to pray, reflect and support one another.'

BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


Have you made a resolution for Lent yet? Ash Wednesday has passed, but it's not too late to start today, as we approach the third Sunday of Lent.

Lent consists of a period of 40 days from Ash Wednesday to the Easter Triduum. If you are counting, remember that, traditionally, Sundays are not calculated in those 40 days of fasting and penance, since the day of the Lord's Resurrection was Sunday.

The Easter Triduum begins with the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, the evening before Good Friday. "Triduum" means "three days." The Easter Triduum goes to Holy Saturday night, the Easter vigil.

Three and 40 are important numbers in the Bible. The people of Israel wandered for 40 years after they were freed from slavery in Egypt, wandering in the Sinai wilderness until they reached the promised land.

Jesus Himself fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, tempted by the devil, before He begin His public ministry, which took three years. He hung on the cross for three hours and rose the third day after, on Easter Sunday.

Lent is a preparation for Easter, best thought of as a time for a journey. When we travel, we get away from familiar places and routines. We take with us only the things that are important. It's never a good idea to pack a lot, because we only end up carrying more. We have to expect surprises and challenges when things don't always work out as planned.

In that spirit, it is traditional to let go of some of the familiar comforts of home during our Lent journey. Some people give up things -- especially those that might be distractions in helping us focus on Jesus. Whatever we decide to do, it should bring us closer to God.

So, what to do? Recently, I was chatting with some clergy and lay friends. We were thinking of things we might propose for our parishioners to do during Lent. Some great ideas came up, like little boxes or envelopes to put a few dollars in each day for the poor -- or for every time you broke your Lenten resolution!

Another thought was to write a letter of thanks each day to someone who touched your life. Giving up Facebook or texting would probably be a tall order for some people, but think of the time it might save for prayer. How can one pray very well anyway, with the distractions of so many screens and ringtones?

We also talked about some things that were probably bad ideas for Lent, like going "cold turkey" on drinking or smoking if you already are a heavy drinker or smoker. Possible? Maybe. But if it only means going back to the same habits after Lent, it may only end up causing depression.

Anything that is sinful, of course, always takes our focus off of God -- so that should go for good, not just during Lent.

As we talked and listened, we were all getting great ideas from one another -- so many, in fact, that none of us could decide on that one idea which was best for everyone. We ended up feeling that it was the conversation among us itself that was the greatest benefit of all in getting ready for Lent!

Maybe you will find that worthwhile, too, to discuss with some friends and family members how you are observing Lent. It's not too late. Make sure that you take a look at your church bulletin, which, no doubt, has all the listings of the liturgical celebrations throughout Lent: Mass, Stations of the Cross, penance services and so on.

One of the things that helps us understand why Jesus founded a Church community is to actually experience how well it works when people come together around Him to pray, reflect and support one another.

It is true that some folks prefer to travel alone -- and maybe, in some cases, that is best. But Lent need not be a lonely journey. Try sharing it with some friends. And remember: Jesus is the friend we always want with us on any journey. After all, that is the whole purpose of Lent: to follow Him more closely along the Way of the Cross.





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