Lent: the ‘intense’ version or the ‘God will understand one’?

Today, on Ash Wednesday, we begin the holy and grace filled season of Lent. There are two ways we can approach this season; we embrace it entirely, or not at all. There is no half measure in this season. Over the last few years, I have experimented with the intense approach towards Lent and the one that says “God will understand.” I distinctly remember the outcome of both. The intense version seems long and never ending but the graces began to flow somewhere mid-season in Lent and the feeling of Easter was spiritually elevating and exhillirating. Then there is the “God will understand” version which begins with all the exemptions that one can ask for based on age, work schedules, examinations etc. The token spiritual resolutions that we make  get washed away and Lent seems to end before it begins. the Lenten season does not feel dreary or tiresome, it seems like just any other time of the liturgical year.

A few years ago, a young man in the parish told me that he had decided to leave work half an hour early  each day in order to attend daily mass in the evening. What struck me was not the fact that he did not miss a single mass in Lent, what struck me is the deal he made with his employer. In lieu of the half hour that he left early, he worked every Sunday through lent to make up for the time lost. In effect he gave up five Sundays and worked through six weeks of Lent.

Lent must be a season when we set aside every pleasure and joy in order that we may fully devote ourselves to God. Lent cannot be a season of tokenism it has to be rigorous and harsh; it must be the desert with its never-ending dunes of sand, not an Arabian city with lights and entertainment. Understand why you desire to give up so much, it is because you want to give in to God’s call to draw close to him.

While many have traditionally given up eating meat and fish during the season of Lent there are still others who skip a meal every single day. Then there are many those who give up entertainment or alcohol. While I want to advocate these traditional and well tested disciplines of sacrifice, I would like to strongly also urge that this year we add some faith learning and charity.

This is a time when you could attend daily mass. The readings each day at mass are truly enriching. You could also log on to one of the many online teachings that are broadcast each day. If your day is challenging, do this while you travel to work. This year make an effort to take leave and attend a parish mission or a retreat. You may also take time to read and study the scriptures or spend time in prayer at the Blessed sacrament chapel in your parish. If the pious practice of saying the family rosary has faded from your home, revive it.

Besides spiritual growth take time to practice charity. In my former parish of St Jude, Malad East, every person in the parish would participate in the Lenten ‘Vada Pav’ collection. The price of this version of India’s  vegetarian hot dog, costs all of Rs 10. The parish was asked to sacrifice this ever-popular Mumbai snack and save that money as their Lenten sacrifice. This formed part of the Lenten contribution which was given to seminary. Many did more than just this; they would walk from the railway station rather than take a bus or an auto rickshaw using the time say the rosary.

The parish also participated in a Lenten program called Lenten lunches. Pooling in their money, families got together to cook vegetarian meals that were served to the needy outside the Church every Sunday in lent. We churned out hundreds of delicious meals that year while sacrificing our own Sunday lunches.

Find your own things to do and don’t go by what your best friend has set as a spiritual discipline. However, aim high and you know what you are truly capable of. My birthday always falls in the season of Lent and each year in lent I inevitably end up visiting relatives abroad, although for a brief five-day trip. Even if I do have a birthday celebration or make a trip abroad, I keep It modest. While much of life goes on during this season of Lent, those who do embrace the season entirely, feel the difference and sense deeply the presence of God. This lent, give God your all.

I have provided the links of eight articles that I have previously written on the season of Lent or on Ash Wednesday. Do click on the links to read them.

Lent: Jump into the deep end

Rejoice, Lent is approaching

Who told you Lent is all about being miserable?

TEN simple things you can do this Lent (that does not require you to stand on your head)

Why are ashes used on Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday-Loose hypocrisy, not the discipline!- Mt 6: 1-6, 16-18.

Sign with no sincerity – A reflection for Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday – ushering in the lenten season with spiritual disciplines

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