In the Catholic faith, the 40 days before Easter...starting on Ash Wednesday called Lent are also very important. It is a time that we reflect and sacrifice in honor of Jesus's ridicule and suffering before He died for our sins and rose from the dead to be with His Father in heaven. Catholics are not the only Christian faith to adhere to Lenten practices many of the Anglican churches have done it for centuries but it has only been in more modern times that a few of the Protestant faiths have also begun to honor the 40 days.
Lent starts as I said, on a Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) 40 days before Easter. In the Catholic faith Ash Wednesday is traditionally honored by attending Mass and getting the blessing of the ashes. The ashes symbolize penance, mortality and mourning from the Old Testament and in essence Lent is a mourning period in reverse. We know what happened after these 40 days over 2000 years ago. We mourn it in advance of the celebration of His resurrection. And yes....that explains the black crosses on peoples foreheads today.
As a kid I knew the basics of what Lent was about after all, look who my mother was....and I did spend a few years in Catholic school, however it was not until I was much older that I understood the full meaning of Lent. Back then Lent was marked by ashes, giving things up, abstaining from meat on Fridays and strict adherence to nightly family rosaries. It was something I never questioned doing but I never really had a full grasp of at the time.
It was not until much later in life when I finally quit rebelling against everything, realized that as a matter of fact I did NOT know everything and I shut my mouth and started listening, that Lent became both very real and very special for me. When the reality of Christs dying and being resurrected became more than just a biblical story to me was when I became the mother of a son. To have a son, love a son and have to watch that son suffer and die for people who persecuted Him and ultimately killed Him must have been excruciating for His mother. Her grief must have been beyond measure. It was then I began to understand the sacrifice God the Father, Mary and Jesus all gave so that my sins and the sins of all men could be forgiven. Then I started looking around at the world and realized how little respect that myself and others seemed to have for this, the greatest act of love and compassion the world had ever seen. That was my moment of clarity as to why we fast, why we abstain and why we use those 40 days to reflect on this miracle and the worthiness of our lives for this miracle.
Lent in its most basic form is not difficult. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we both fast and abstain, meaning that we eat two small meals and one bigger meal and nothing in between. We also forgo any red meat or chicken. Fish is okay. During the rest of Lent, we abstain on Friday's meaning again.....no red meat or chicken. Catholics are also expected to receive the sacraments (penance and communion) during this time and if you go into a Catholic church during Lent, you will find that the crucifix that hangs above the altar along with any statues are covered in a purple veil. This reminds us that this a solemn time of mourning and preparation honoring the passion of Christ and His death.
If one questions why we fast and abstain during this time, the answer is quite easy. We are sacrificing in a small way for Jesus as He sacrificed for us. It also is a reminder of what was given to us body and soul in the last days and hour of His life culminating into His final breath. It is also encouraged during this time to take our sacrificing a bit further and to give up or change things during these 40 days and while making these sacrifices....meditating on the precious gift of eternal life given to us all those years ago.
Around this time of year and usually the week prior to Ash Wednesday, you will start hearing people talk about "what" they will be giving up or should be giving up for Lent. Since there are no rules and sacrifice is different to all people.....the possibilities are endless. Growing up the sacrifices were usually pretty much confined to the conveniences of our world. Back then, on of those conveniences was telephone time...which was usually already limited with an entire family sharing one line and one maybe two phones....so the sacrifice was not talking on it at all. Another was TV time. Again....we had three basic channels and a PBS channel. TV time was usually for kids, right after school and on Saturdays. Yep....we sacrificed our after school Flintstones and our Saturday morning cartoons! The funny thing was back then, there was really no agonizing or questioning what we would give up. We chose what convenience meant the most to us and viola.....we gave it up without question.
In today's world we have so many more conveniences and so many more possibilities for sacrifice and yet it seems that no one wants to give anything up. There are those that do look around and completely purge their lives of convenience during this time. Facebook and social media.....gone! Texting....gone! Half calf mocha whatever.....gone! Diet soda...gone! Okay, maybe that last one was just me, however.....the possibilities are nearly endless. Good rule of thumb.....If it hurts to give it up for 6 weeks, then it is a sacrifice. Lent isn't just about sacrifice though. It is also about change, reflection and prayer. More prayer is always good and Lent is an amazing time to hit your knees and thank God for all the blessings you have.
This year so far has been an emotionally awkward time for me. There have been those who have generously bestowed prayers, kindness and even some financial assistance on my family. Most have asked nothing in return except to pay it forward. What better time to start paying it forward than Lent and paying it forward can mean a thousand different things from dropping change into a Cancer jar to listening to a friend in need. Everyday of our lives we are afforded a way to pay it forward but seldom do we act on it or even recognize all the opportunities. For Lent this year I have decided that my focus will be to pay it forward daily and in each act I will think of the greatest gift ever given to mankind and say a little prayer of thanksgiving for the sacrifice given for us all. It is my hope that at the end of the 40 days, these acts will no longer be just a Lenten thing, but that they will also be a part of who I am for the rest of my life!
Okay...so this is Lent. Still wondering what to do or give up? I am including a few links to some other Lenten ideas and acts.....just in case you still haven't found that perfect act or sacrifice. First is a little blog article I found called 40 Bags in 40 Days. Now I am not sure that this was specifically for Lent but it a great idea and has charity as well as sacrifice written all over it. The next thing is a Lenten Calendar entitled Fast Pray Give. Each day can only be clicked on THAT particular day. You can't click ahead and the day gives a message to think about and meditate on. It is kind of cool actually.
And finally.....from the St. Jude facebook page I will leave you with these words......
Looking for something to give up for Lent?
Give up resentment and become more forgiving.
Give up hatred and return good for evil.
Give up complaining and be more grateful.
Give up pessimism and become more hopeful.
Give up worry and become more trusting.
Give up anger and become more patient.
Give up pettiness and become more noble.
Give up gloom and become more joyful.
Give up doubt and turn to God.
Have a blessed day!