The young adults of our parish met on Saturday afternoon to learn about the origins of Lent, reflect on our past experiences, pray with the Gospel, meditate, read spiritual direction and discuss what fasting, prayer and almsgiving looks like in our lives. Often we can have a ‘ticking boxes’ mentality to Lent, that time of year when we stay away from cakes, but then we are missing the point. What if Lent is not meant for losing that holiday weight or for the point of suffering, but a season of giving life, where we grow closer to God everyday in an intimate relationship and embark on an unexpected journey full of grace, mercy and love.
The Tradition of Lent:
Lent is a season that occurs every year. Think of it not as a continuous cycle, but a spiral, that leads us closer and closer to the centre which is Christ.
Originally Lent was for people first entering the church, it is a season of final purification and enlightenment, removing any final obstacles in the way of our hearts and getting to know Christ in an intimate way before being fully received into the church.
The church then realised what a nourishing season this was and that it should be the practise for all catholics. The tradition of purification and enlightenment has been broken down into three practises: fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
Lent comes from the word Lencten which means Spring - a time where the days are longer - stretched. So think of this time as stretching ourselves spiritually through fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
Fast, Prayer, Almsgiving:
Fasting isn’t just about giving up food, which is meant to help us understand Jesus’ hunger in the desert, uniting himself to the hunger of the poor, but we can fast from things that stop us from knowing Christ and being Christ to others such as fast from complaining, hitting snooze, gossiping, buying unnecessary clothes and items, watching TV. Instead we turn that TV time into prayer, we speak kindly of others, we give the money to the poor that we would usually spend on a luxury item.
When we fast from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday we are remembering Jesus’ sacrifice of his own flesh, dying on the cross for our sins.
For prayer it can be as simple as committing to a prayer time every day, praying for someone, or spending time sitting in silence before God. Only God can satisfy our deepest hunger - to love and be loved.
In almsgiving which is another word for service, we follow Jesus’ commandment in loving our neighbours, serving our brothers and sisters, caring for the poor, isolated, broken, sick. You may choose to feed the homeless, visit the elderly or someone you know who needs company, care for someone who needs assistance, or simply do a chore or deed for someone at home. Even buying a coffee for your coworker in the morning is an act of service. We can be big or small, as long as in love, God recognises our great deed.
Caritas Australia sends all parishes a project compassion box during the season of Lent. You can offer a small part of your paycheck, your loose coins or choose not to buy that new thing online and instead offer it to those who have nothing.
Meaning of Sacrifice:
Lent is a time for sacrifice but Jesus shows us the true meaning of sacrifice - love. His ultimate sacrifice, giving His life because of His love for us. If we suffer for the sake of suffering, to prove a point, to make ourselves look holy, and even show others how hard we are trying - we have missed the point. If it is not self-giving but selfish (to gain our own successes), then there is no love. Our Father sees all, knows all so do not worry about trying to impress anyone, He pours out His Grace to us when we offer our deeds, words, work and prayers to Him.
Below is a video the young adults watched at the beginning of our Lenten session. We paused after the first 6 minutes and stopped to meditate on what our desires were and how they’d compared to other desires we’d had for Lent in previous years. Wherever we are on our journey in approaching this Lent, Jesus welcomes us.
Continuing with other activities, prayer and conversation throughout the session, the young adults were encouraged not to decide on their fasting, prayer and almsgiving intentions for the season during the session, but to go away from the session and pray about it. As we’d talked in our first session of the year - to discern through prayer. In other words, listen to what the spirit is saying. Jesus didn’t just walk into the desert, but was “led by the spirit”. Lent calls us into an intimate journey with Jesus, so be with Him in your intentions.
As we journey to Easter, Christ carries our cross with us - leading us towards His cross where we rejoice in His defeat of death so that we may be with Him eternally. As St Therese of Lisieux says, the world is our ship but not our home.
May our Mother Mary, our Star of the Sea, navigate us towards our destination through all the seas and storms we venture through. Let us open ourselves to the unexpected graces on our Lenten journey to Easter.