By: Kathleen Yacharn
Of all the Liturgical seasons, Lent can be a hard sell. During Advent, the wreaths and familiar carols draw many Catholics back to church for the nostalgia of the season. On the other hand, Lent is often the bane of Catholic children who sadly and reluctantly give up their sweets, weekday television, and video games. Even adults can find Lenten sacrifices and resolutions frustrating and hard to bear. It’s not always easy to take joy in the weeks leading up to Easter when we are reminded of our sins and asked to make atonement, and yet that is what we are called to do.
Further, modern life has become so centered on enjoyment and convenience that the meaning and purpose of fasting and making sacrifices can seem archaic. We are, after all, only human, creatures of the time, and we live in our ‘modern’ world, where life doesn’t pause for us to rest and pray.
Making small sacrifices, however, should help us focus on the many blessings we take for granted every day. Simple things like praying a decade of the rosary each day, giving up pastries, and donating a little more money during Lent shouldn’t bring us down but buoy us as we focus on God’s endless graces and mercies.
That’s why it is so important to make Lent ‘real’ by keeping reminders around to help focus your attention. You can do this by keeping a religious calendar in the center of your home, or writing Lenten verses or your own goals on notecards around the house. When I was younger, I had a hard time remembering not to eat meat on Fridays, so I make sure to keep a reminder on my fridge and phone that Fridays are meatless (This has helped a lot!). Parents often have interactive activities to help their children remember why we make sacrifices, but there’s no reason why adults shouldn’t make Lent an active experience for themselves as well. Taking even five minutes out of the day for prayer can be a challenge, so why not set an alarm or notification regularly to remind you of your ultimate desire to repent of your sins and forge a more personal relationship with Christ?
One of the best and most meaningful ways I’ve seen of making Lent ‘real’ is by using the Catholic Relief Service (CRS) Rice Bowl, a program that offers faith formation during Lent with the proceeds going to support the poor overseas and at home. It’s a great tool for children and young people, but also for adults. The Rice Bowl is a collection box for change and has spaces for you to write your own sacrifice to personalize it. It also offers facts to support you in your Lenten journey and links to provide more information and resources to continue your support throughout the year. This simple, folded paper box helps Catholics focus on true suffering and works as a visual reminder of the promises we’ve made to God and to ourselves. The kit comes with a Lenten spiritual guide with information on easy and concrete ways a small sacrifice can make real differences in the lives of those less fortunate than us. It includes five meatless recipes from countries that will receive aid from CRS along with stories of the goals that CRS has for these countries. This year, the program focuses on helping the poor in Burkina Faso, East Timor, Lesotho, the Dominican Republic, Pakistan, and the Diocese of Oakland, California. Twenty-five percent of donations is returned to help those in need in our diocese.
Don’t be discouraged or allow the minor inconveniences of sacrifice make you see Lent as time of sadness and suffering. Let’s be grateful that God has put so much into our lives and joyfully embrace our Lenten devotions. After all, our complaints ring hollow when meat or anything we can easily offer up as a small sacrifice are things people all over the world regularly go without.