Story by S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - On March 1, Catholics around the world will enter Lent, a period of fasting and penance leading up to the Holy Triduum and Easter.
Lent echoes Jesus’ 40-day fast in Matthew 4:1-11. Beginning on Ash Wednesday the “Gloria” and the “Alleluia” are noticeably absent from the liturgy. Vestments, altar linens and other liturgical materials will be violet to signify penance, save for Laetare Sunday, the fourth week of Lent, when they are swapped to rose-colored items for the day.
These color changes, said Mary Menke Koch of St. Michael Parish in Hastings, “makes us pause to notice something is different. That pause helps me to stop and reflect on the season.”
“Jesus says to pray, fast, and give alms,” Father Barak said. “These are great practices for becoming more truly an image of God that we are created to be.”
Lent is an opportunity to change one’s prayer habits for the better.
“Block out 10-15 minutes,” recommended Father Barak, “and we can ask our guardian angels to help us stick with this daily practice.”
He also suggested reading the Gospel from the daily Mass, a psalm, or passages on either the Last Supper or the Lord’s passion to inspire a subject matter to pray about.
Catholics observe fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting applies to all the faithful over the age of 14 and under the age of 60, with exceptions made for workers at very physically demanding jobs, pregnant or nursing mothers, or those who have health conditions that would make fasting unwise. Additionally, each Friday is designated as a day of abstinence from meat.
Many faithful also give up a favorite treat throughout Lent – sometimes even an entire category, such as bread, condiments, between-meal snacks, or coffee. Another option is to reduce how much one eats at each meal.
“It may be three small meals, or just one small meal with a snack,” said Father Barak. “Ask God’s guidance of how much to fast… We can fast as a penance for the conversion of sinners.”
“Every person is different,” Mrs. Koch offered. “I think whatever practices we choose have to make a true difference in our lives and, in a sense, ‘disrupt’ our comfortable day to day routines.”
The Morin family of St. Teresa Parish in Lincoln is one example of how a family can practice fasting and abstinence together. Dr. Peter Morin and his first wife, Mary, helped their five children give up sweets, television and movies during Lent until her death in 2005. It’s a tradition that Dr. Morin and his second wife, Lori, maintain with their daughter, Joy, age 7.
“Getting to have desserts again after giving them up for many weeks is a big deal,” said Mrs. Morin. “And when they understand that they gave up those desserts willingly for Jesus in order to ‘suffer’ a tiny bit as He suffered for us, then His resurrection means more.”
Additionally, the Morins have always made a sacrifice of time to attend stations of the cross every Friday during Lent. They now also visit a sick or elderly person each week, attend daily Mass more frequently and listen only to Christian music.
As a mother, Mrs. Morin sees the value in combining giving something up with doing something extra.
“It helps when the little ones are surrounded by Lent,” she said. “The weekly stations remind us why we visited someone sick on Wednesday and why we didn’t have dessert and why we drink our coffee black.”
She continued, “When there are a variety of practices integrated into daily life, the whole season feels different.”
Generally, one is free to refrain from fasting and abstinence on the Sundays of Lent.
“The Church has always taught that each Sunday of the year is a type of Easter Sunday that celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus with joy, not with fasting and penance,” Father Barak noted. “Some people chose to continue their penances on the Lenten Sundays. If so, they might lessen the penances in order for the joy of the Lord’s Resurrection to be the main focus of the day.”
Just like prayer and fasting, giving alms can help one grow spiritually.
“Giving some of our money to charities unites us to God,” Father Barak said. “We find out that in being generous with our money we actually experience the Father’s care as He gives us what we need.”
No penitential season is complete without the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“Confession is a great sacrament that unites us to Jesus, and allows Him to remove guilt and shame, and make us feel peaceful when we find He does not seek revenge, but wants us to have peace and joy by being more whole inside,” said Father Barak.
He suggested reading about the seven capital sins, and then taking five or six days to examine one’s life, asking the Lord to remind us of when we have succumbed to temptation.
“Jesus will do a lot of healing and strengthening in our hearts if we spend this holy season repenting for our sins,” he assured. “Ask Jesus to make it easy for you to go to confession.”
Father Barak said that while Lent is a season of penance, it’s also a season of joy.
“Not in the form of laughter, songs, food and parties, but in deeper peace that comes to one’s heart by becoming more attached to God, the true source of happiness,” he said.
“Lent helps us to obtain a greater sense of what our Lord endured, share in his journey, and ultimately share in His joy of the resurrection,” agreed Mrs. Koch.
Father Barak advises asking the Lord to help choose one’s penances for Lent, as well as asking for the grace to fulfill them.
“This team approach with Jesus will help make the penitential season fruitful and will help you feel the deep peace that brings joy to the heart, he said.
Mrs. Morin said that the sacrifices of Lent are a perfect way to prepare for Easter.
“Without having experienced the sacrifice and penance first, Easter would be flat, far less meaningful and glorious,” she said.
Her daughter Joy chimed in. “During Lent when we are making all of our sacrifices, it’s not very exciting and we’re kind of down,” she said. “But then when Easter comes, it’s full of excitement because Jesus is alive and we can celebrate!”
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