Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Getting Ready for Lent

Dear Theophilous,

Special events have a habit of sneaking up on us. There never seems to be enough time to get ready for the dinner party we’re throwing Saturday evening. As a guy, Valentine’s Day (the secular version) is my annual downfall. There’s also the quintessential Advent question: “Are you ready for Christmas?”

The panic that surges as these events approach is usually the result of a lack of foresight and preparedness. And each time I’m in the frenzied thick of getting things done last minute, I promise myself that next time will be different.

Every year, Lent has a way of sneaking up on me as well.

Maybe it’s because Easter is a moveable feast (and thus Ash Wednesday and Lent are never the same date). Perhaps it’s because life is hectic this time of year with the transition of semesters at school. It could be that the dark doldrums of winter have me thinking of far-off places and not the liturgical seasons.

I wake up one morning and realize it’s Ash Wednesday and that Lent has begun. My mind races with questions such as What to give up? Or How to fast with a fridge full of food? And most importantly, How will my life be different this Lent from years gone by? I’ve found through the years that my rocky start to Lent has my efforts sputter out long before Holy Week.

With Lent 2016 only 2 weeks away (or closer, depending on when you read this), I’ve begun to prepare myself for this penitential season, and I’m sharing them here in the hopes that you will avoid the pitfall of not being prepared and then chastising yourself for a Lent unfulfilled.

Meditating on my Lenten Sacrifice

Lent is a time of penitential sacrifice when we traditionally give something up for the 40 days before Easter. Like many, I don’t usually give this any thought until Ash Wednesday. I end up scrambling to think of a suitable sacrifice, trying to steer clear of usual’s such as chips, chocolate or alcohol. The whole point of our Lenten sacrifice is to better ourselves (so I tell my students that giving up homework is not a valid choice); it has to be sacrificial; it has to hurt. I’m just beginning to think of my sacrifice for this year, and traditionally, it’s not something I share with others – the Father knows.

Preparing the Fast

My waistline is proof that I love cold turkey. That said, I hate going cold turkey. Traditionally we are called to fast throughout Lent (1 main meal and 2 small meals a day – no snacking), with more concerted fasts on Wednesdays and Fridays; complete fasts on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; plus the abstention from meat on all Friday’s during Lent. I need to work up to lowering my calorie intake. I also know my weaknesses when it comes to fasting (I’m never more hungry than when I’m purposefully fasting). The hardest part of the fast for me is avoiding temptation, so there will be a concerted effort over the next couple of weeks to empty the cupboards, keeping on hand only what is necessary. It’s no wonder that the day before Lent begins is Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) – it’s a gluttonous affair to clear the larder.

Clearing the Calendar

Lent isn’t meant to be easy. It involves self-sacrifice as we meditate on the sacrifice of our Lord on the Cross. Thankfully Lent is not a season we are meant to go through alone. Knowing that we need help on our journey, many parishes offer different events to help focus our attention on Christ; join our suffering to His; and take comfort in the company of our fellow Christians. Check your parish bulletin or website for the dates and times for Stations of the Cross, Eucharistic Adoration and Poverty Meals. These are all great ways to sustain your efforts through the 40 days of Lent, so make room for them on your calendar now before other things come up and you get to Easter wishing you had set the time aside.

Throughout your Lenten journey, dear Theophilous, remember that you are not alone. Remember that Christ walks with you always. When the road seems hard, think of the path to Calvary. Know that I am praying for you, and I humbly ask for your prayers in return.

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