Aarrgh! It’s almost Lent and I have no idea what to do
Image source: http://www.catholicmemes.com/brace-yourselves/lent-is-coming/
It’s that time of year again. Ash Wednesday comes but once a year and, whether it’s as early as February 13 (2013) or as late as March 5 (2014), I have the same dread feeling of being spiritually and physically unprepared for this season. If you are caught in a similar cycle of unworthiness and self-castigation (and all this before the “penitential” season begins!), I hope these pearls of ‘wisdom’ may be of some comfort to you.
As you are (hopefully) aware, there are three key elements to the Season of Lent. These are addressed in the Gospel for Ash Wednesday (Mt. 6:1-6, 16-18) as almsgiving, prayer, and fasting (in that order). I thought it might be helpful to share some thoughts on each of these disciplines.
The word “alms” comes from a Greek root meaning “compassion” or “mercy”. Almsgiving, then, constitutes acts of charitable mercy towards the poor, either in terms of material gifts (e.g. money, food), spiritual gifts (e.g. praying for the sick) or providing a service (e.g. education). A few thoughts on almsgiving:
- Do the basics right. Put a bit extra in the Sunday collection during Lent; cook a meal for your housemates once a week; make an effort to call home more often etc.
- Carpe Diem – seize the day! Take opportunities to be charitable when they come your way. A good example of this was our collection for the Sick and Retired Priests Fund. If you are able and willing, seize such opportunities rather than putting it off until later.
- There are numerous charitable initiatives in and around our community which you can get involved in. Tasty Tuesdays Lenton is a new project to provide meals for the hungry in the local area, which some of our community are helping out with. Emmanuel House also offer volunteering opportunities, as does the Student Volunteer Centre in Portland.
Prayer can take many different forms: devotions, meditation, singing, spiritual reading, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament etc. Here are a few points to bear in mind:
- Do the basics right. Make sure to get yourself to Mass on Ash Wednesday to mark the start of Lent.
- Have a think about where you will spend the Easter Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday). It can be a special experience to participate in all these liturgies in the same place and with the same community. And get involved where you can: have your feet washed on Maundy Thursday, venerate the Cross on Good Friday, volunteer to read at the Easter Vigil…
- To quote Fr Kieran from Ampleforth, pray as you can and not as you can’t. We have different things going on in the Community: Mass on Sundays, Wednesdays (with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament afterwards) and Fridays; Morning and Evening Prayer on weekdays; Stations of the Cross on Fridays. And if your preferred type of prayer is missing, why not start something yourself and invite a few people along?
This is probably the most popularised element of Lent, which seems ironic to me, as I consider it the trickiest part.
- Do the basics right. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting and abstinence (i.e. no meat).
- Be realistic! In the Gospel for Ash Wednesday, Jesus advises us to be cheerful in fasting, not to “pull long faces” so that others know we are fasting and can bask in the glory of our self-righteousness. So, if you’re on five coffees a day, going cold turkey is likely to leave you utterly miserable. Maybe cutting down to one or two would be more productive. Fasting should be a challenge, but we must be aware of our limitations too.
- It’s not just food that we can give up for Lent. Negative behaviours are a good place to start: taking the Lord’s name in vain, swearing, spending too much time on Facebook etc.
I hope that this blog might provide a few crumbs of inspiration in your preparations for Lent. Remember, we’re all in it together, so please do join the community in our activities this Lent. First up, pancakes at the Cathedral on Tuesday at 7pm and Mass at 5pm in Portland Chapel on Ash Wednesday!