Ash Wednesday opens Lent, a season of fasting and prayer. Priests administer ashes during Mass and all are invited to accept the ashes as a visible symbol of penance. The ashes are made from blessed palm branches, taken from the previous year’s palm Sunday Mass. It is not required that a person wear the ashes for the rest of the day, and they may be washed off after Mass. However, many people keep the ashes as a reminder until the evening.
Every year at Lent, the40 days before Easter, my mom gave up chocolate, which of course meant our whole family did this. These 40 days leading up to Easter where supposed to remind us of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. All I knew was that as a family of chocaholics, these days made for some cranky folks. But we sure looked forward to Sunday, because for some reason we could cheat on Sunday, so our Lenten after church ritual was to head to the store for a big bag of M&M’s or Chocolate Kisses.
As I got older I learned that lent is really 46 days and the six Sundays in Lent are not counted because each one is seen as a “mini-Easter” celebrating Jesus’ victory over sin and death.
During Lent, participants often give up a particular food or habit. It’s not uncommon for people to give up smoking during Lent, or to swear off watching television or eating candy or telling lies. It’s six weeks of self-discipline. As I’ve gotten older and moved away from organized religion, I’ve still felt the need to give up something each year at lent. Chocolate has often been that thing, though I’ve also given up caffeine, fried foods and alcohol as well.
Last year I had a change of heart and and decided to go a different way and did 40 days of donating things. I loved that and felt it was more meaningful then spending the first 2 weeks of lent with caffeine withdrawal headaches.
This year I’m seeing more and more folks going towards taking on things, instead of giving up things.
Even the Pope has has blessed this concept as demonstrated in his 2014 Lenten Message: ” Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing.”
This year I’m going find something positive that I can add to my daily routine during Lent. Want to join me? Here are some ideas:
1. Think about what you usually spend your money on. Do you buy too many clothes? Spend too much on dinner out? Pick one type of expenditure that you’ll “fast” from during Lent, and then give the money you would usually spend to a local charity.
2. Take something on — 40 days of letter writing, 40 acts of kindness, 40 phone calls to the important people in your life.
3. Get some friends together and attend a Friday fish fry at a local parish. It’s not the healthiest thing in the world, but a fun Catholic tradition to help you abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent.
4. Unplug from your iPhone or turn off your car radio on your commute. The silence may be jarring at first, but you may find that you are able to concentrate better and will be more observant of your surroundings.
5. Spend at least one weekend or evening volunteering during Lent. Serve a meal at your local soup kitchen. Visit the elderly. Stock shelves at a food pantry.
6. Make a commitment to fast from insensitive, cruel comments about others. So, no gossiping or going down the Twitter rabbit hole.
7. As a part of your Lenten almsgiving, make a point to learn more about a particular social issue (immigration, human trafficking, racism, the environment, public education, child poverty). Give money to an organization related to your chosen issue that supports the dignity of the human person.
8. Get to know your neighbors. Introduce yourself, plan a dinner, or bring food to an older person on your block.