The season of Lent that began on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 26, is familiar to Catholics as a time of penance, reflection and sacrifice.
Most practicing Catholics, it seems, make a special effort to get ashes and display them proudly, to observe the disciplines of fasting and abstinence, and to avoid scheduling major celebratory events like weddings and optional parties in the weeks before Easter.
Even as they do all that, familiarity with ritual can breed many things, including apathy and indifference.
This year—amid fears of the spreading coronavirus and the toxic presidential primaries—one might expect to see even less attention paid to the spiritual side of Lent, as thoughts are focused elsewhere.
However, in this uncertain environment it’s more important than ever to turn our attention to fostering a deeper dialogue with God and reaching out to those who need help and support.
Pope Francis, in his Lenten message this year, said that despite the “sometimes tragic presence of evil in our lives and in the life of the Church and the world, this [Lenten] opportunity to change our course expresses God’s unwavering will not to interrupt his dialogue of salvation with us” and his desire that people also engage in fruitful dialogue with each other.
That’s good advice, and there’s no better time to reset our thoughts and behaviors than during the Lenten observance.
Parishes in the archdiocese have been encouraged to offer devotions such as stations of the cross during Lent and to extend hours of confession throughout the season; also, all parishes will participate in Reconciliation Monday, April 6, when confessions will be offered all day and into the evening.
We encourage all to connect or reconnect with the important sacrament of reconciliation, and to reconnect with their parishes as well—not only by attending weekly Mass, but also making an effort to participate in special services, lectures and other activities that may be available.
This spirit can continue into our personal lives, with commitments to increased engagement in positive, life-affirming activities. Visiting or calling a housebound friend or relative, offering to babysit to give a harried parent a break, exercising more and eating healthier are all examples of positive sacrifice.
Some Catholics are taking countercultural breaks that are important sacrifices, too. Catholic News Service reports on one of them, Sheila Wheltie of Catonsville, Md., who’s giving up social media for Lent.
Calling herself an extrovert, she admits that social media is a lot of fun, but is also “a major distraction and time waster.”
She said the time she saves “can be spent completing undone tasks around the house, perhaps cooking more but also, as it is Lent, working on my prayer life and reading scripture more.” In other words, experiencing Lent’s spiritual fruits.
Finally, Pope Francis reminds us in his Lenten message that Christians are called not only to generously share the richness of the Gospel during Lent but are also called, by charitable giving, to share “their goods with those most in need, as a means of personally participating in the building of a better world.”
We can’t imagine a more worthy goal.