Did you know that the word Lent comes from a word for springtime? Christian observances of a time of fasting before Easter go all the way back to Saint Irenaeus.
But today, who observes Lent?
Holidays have been pretty well appropriated by our general culture: Christmas, despite those who harp about a “war on Christmas,” actually subsumes our entire society from the day we put our Thanksgiving turkey in the oven until midnight on Christmas Day.
Valentine’s Day might be named for an obscure saint (or possibly two – historians aren’t sure) but it’s hardly a religious holiday, despite its chocolate-saturated popularity.
And even Halloween had its origins in the time of prayers for the dead and the celebration of All Souls and All Saints.
Being Irish, I’m happy to see green appear everywhere around March 17, despite the general lack of interest in the remarkable saint who started his journey to Ireland as a trafficked slave and ended his career by converting an entire people.
And then, of course, pastel eggs and chipper bunny rabbits clog the supermarket aisles weeks before Easter. The culture appropriates our holidays whether there is any consensus on their religious meaning or not.
But Lent? It’s all ours. For the one billion Catholics worldwide, for the Orthodox and for many Protestant denominations who observe the 40 days, it’s a special time. It’s truly part of our communion of saints, and it can be a very rich time, indeed.
Sometimes, though, it’s tough to stay focused when society generally tunes out. How many times has someone come up to you on Ash Wednesday, doing you the favor of quietly confiding that you need a quick trip to the washroom to take care of that smudge on your forehead?
Sometimes Lent slides by. Life is busy. Maybe we give up chocolate and that’s the extent of it.
By the time you read this, we’ll be deep into the season and maybe you’re not satisfied with your effort. Take heart — it’s never too late. Even if our whole Lent was condensed into Holy Week and the Triduum celebrations, we’d be gifted.
But sometimes we need some resources to inspire us.
Many prayer resources can be found online. Jesuits.org has the one I’m using this year. Click on “Moved to Greater Love,” which provides a daily grace for which to pray, part of the day’s readings and reflection questions.
Creighton University’s online ministry page (onlineministries.creighton.edu) provides Lenten devotions, plus a chance to read “Mercy in the City” by Kerry Weber and share in an online discussion. Weber, a managing editor at America magazine, writes about her attempt to practice the corporal works of mercy during Lent.
If you don’t want to be part of the online discussion, just read the book and be inspired by it. “Mercy in the City” is published by Loyola Press, and until April 20, you can get a discount by going through Creighton’s website. I’m ordering mine today.
For many families, Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl provides a good resource. If your parish participates, pick up a cardboard rice bowl and the calendar, which provides daily reflections, recipes for meat-free meals from around the world, prayers, and insights into the world’s poor. It’s a great resource for kids. Fill the rice bowl with your sacrificial offerings and help CRS.
“Magnificat” and “Living Faith” are two little publications that many find inspirational during any season.
So just ignore those Easter eggs for a few more days and savor our little Christian secret: Lent is wonderful.
The writer is formerly from Anchorage. She now lives in Omaha, Neb.