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The Lenten Season: Creating Bridges of Love

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. Matthew 3:12

I’ve read this verse many times in the last few weeks; contemplated it; realized how deeply it applies to our lives. There is remarkable meaning behind it and there is no better time than Lent to help our souls be harvested with the wheat rather than the chaff…

Although I was a cradle Catholic, raised by a very religious mother, reading the Bible wasn’t something we did, nor was it something I grew up doing. It was reserved for church. We would listen to the readings, the Gospel and the homily, dutifully pray the prayers we knew since we were little and hopefully apply the lessons learned at Mass to our daily lives. At night we said our prayers, we went to Confession as needed, received Communion and we considered ourselves “good” Catholics. Lent meant extra prayers, abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays, giving up something you liked—chocolate, coffee, candy... That was roughly the extent of it.

As I grew in years and had a family of my own, I grew in my Catholic faith too. I have learned so much more—from homilies at church, from my daughters’ Catechism classes, from missions I have attended, from various prayers I have discovered, books I have read, from simply being a mother and a wife, and yes, from actually taking the time to read the Bible on my own.

I must confess, some time ago, as a graduate student, I did read the entire Bible—cover to cover. I decided to start with page one and read all the way to the end—a very methodical approach. So technically I have read the whole Bible, but I use the term “read” loosely. Today I clearly see what a short-sighted, casual act it really was—I read it like I would a research text or a book. However, I forgot the most important details: faith, growth, study, contemplation, meditation and application.

Lately I started reading the Bible daily, but for shorter periods of time, with more meditation, and randomly, rather than cover to cover. The Didache Bible, with commentary based primarily on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, provides so much explanation with each of the readings and I find myself growing in the understanding of my Catholic faith. I realize how little I know. I realize my knowledge of my faith is at the level of a newborn baby, discovering that she can move her fingers. It was not until the last few years that I started to truly realize the power, love and beauty of a faith that was always a part of me, however, I was not always a part of it, even when I believed I was. 

Each Lenten season I have tried to delve deeper into my own faith. After all, the 40 days of Lent are a time for us to prepare, meditate, get to know ourselves and God a little better. Knowing the suffering Jesus underwent, skipping that coffee or chocolate simply doesn’t seem to be much of a sacrifice.

I have always felt that religion is personal, immensely private. In fact, writing this and sharing it was a challenging hurdle for me, but one I chose to do this Lent. Seeing the ugliness and evil that has permeated our communities and our lives, I wonder if we couldn’t further cultivate the beauty of Lent to better ourselves and extend it to others: Create bridges of love, forgiveness and humility. Isn’t that, in essence, what Jesus taught?

During Lent, our souls can gain in purity if we find ways to love the way Jesus taught us. Maybe we can do more than give up coffee or chocolate. Maybe we share in a moment of genuine conversation rather than the superficiality of “how are you” without the expectation of an answer. Maybe we listen to a friend, truly listen. Maybe we bring in a neighbor’s trash cans. Maybe we volunteer somewhere that we might not have done so in the past. Maybe, in the tradition of St. Francis, we dedicate some time at the animal shelter. Maybe we just say hello to the person we pass on the street as we walk our dog. Maybe we just try and be better neighbors, citizens, family members and friends… Is it really that hard?

I am no authority. I am no expert. I am only a Catholic, a human, a sinner trying to grow in my faith. But my personal hope for this Lent is that my typical trilogy of prayer, fasting and almsgiving can extend further than it has in past years. I hope we all find our own ways to cultivate our faith, grow in our love of others, and build the steps of that stairway all the way to heaven so once we are called, our travels may hopefully be swift and easy.

Interesting Pre- Lent and Lent traditions from around the world

  • One of the things my family picked up from my husband’s Louisiana-Cajun Catholic roots is the King Cake—a delicious pastry decorated with icing and sugar colored in the hues of Mardi Gras. What makes it special is the little baby Jesus hidden in the cake. Whoever finds him, is said to have good luck for the year and must buy the cake next year. Of course, this is during Mardi Gras!
  • Mothering Sunday is a tradition in Ireland and the United Kingdom, which is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent. It is a day to honor Mary, foremost, and all mothers.
  • In some parts of Germany, old Christmas trees are burned during Lent to welcome spring.
  • In Denmark on the last Sunday before Lent, cream or jam-filled buns are eaten and children dress up in costumes. Similar to a piñata, they fill a barrel with candy, beat it and the two children who break the barrel are crowned as “Cat King” and “Cat Queen.”
  • In Canada, items such as coins, rings, nails, thimbles are baked into pancakes. Your fortune is revealed by what you find in your pancake: being rich, getting married, becoming a carpenter, tailor, etc.
  • In Italy bottles of holy water are traditionally passed out during Lent so they may be used to bless homes.
  • In Bermuda, on Good Friday, families fly kites made with wooden sticks. They represent the cross upon which Jesus died as well as the Ascension into Heaven.

Ideas for expanding our own Lenten experience

  • Attend Mass on Ash Wednesday. Truly feel the cross of ash on your forehead and allow it to stand as a reminder of our own sinfulness. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Ecclesiastes 3:20
  • Confessions during Lent are especially important. Offer a heartfelt, humble and sincere confession that truly allows you to lay your heart before God. If you aren’t Catholic, speak to God, ask for forgiveness and strength to grow in your faith.
  • In a busy world, finding time for a daily Mass can be difficult, but it can help bridge our faith with the beauty of Mass from the previous Sunday to the next. Prayer is about hope, growth, closeness, positive change and so much more. What better way for a positive change than using thoughts, words, and actions to grow a more intimate relationship with God?
  • Reading the Bible, praying the Rosary or praying the Stations of the Cross can help us enrich our Lenten journey.
  • Spending more time with family and limiting time on devices is a healthy practice year-round. But perhaps we take some time to pray together as a family or read the Bible together. Discussing the readings and listening to your children’s perspectives can be especially enlightening. I’ve found that often their interpretations are purer and truer than our own.
  • Pray for the souls in purgatory; pray for those who we may not like; pray for those who need it most—even if we do not know them.
  • Come up with a list of things you can do for Lent. Write them on index cards. Make it a family project! They can be creative reminders of your Lenten journey.
  • Find at least five minutes in the day to spend with God alone, in meditation.
  • Get creative. Find ways to better yourself and you will, in turn, better the world.

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