Spice up Lent

Have you ever thought of Lent as the season of “No”?  That’s the way it seems sometimes: no meat + no big meals + no spending = no fun. Is that really the outlook the Church is asking us to take for the next 40 days? 

In the Gospel for Ash Wednesday (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18), Jesus tells us how we are to approach this sacred season, “… anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden.” Even Jesus knows that when you look attractive, you feel attractive, and that produces a radiance of positivity. Lent’s not just about making sure you groom yourself, it’s about challenging yourself to go beyond how you actually feel and tapping into the divine support that Lenten practices can bring. 

The Church asks us to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday as well as all Fridays of Lent, including Good Friday. This requires us to pay attention to what we are eating and what day of the week it is. We could take the approach that it is a checkbox we just need to check off, saying we  ate no meat for each of the meals throughout the day. This does not mean that you need to limit yourself to baked fish and boiled potatoes each of these days. Why not challenge yourself to a cuisine that you may not be familiar with: tofu lo mein, sushi, or aloo gobi. Even a mild, Indian-spiced dish can put color on your cheeks! 

Just as we pay attention to what we are putting in our mouths, we can also pay attention to what we are putting into our minds. Perhaps what we sacrifice, or give up, during Lent is consuming information that does not grow our relationship with God: spending excessive time on social media, reading and/or watching TV or streaming service programming that does not align with the Catholic faith, or prioritizing other activities at the expense of spending time at Mass or in prayer. And just like trying some unique cuisine, sampling different prayers can take a bland relationship with God and turn it into a vibrant, life-giving one that exceeds our expectations.. 

Praying, fasting, and almsgiving are the three hallmark activities of Lent. It’s possible to spice up the first two, but how does one make almsgiving attractive? Perhaps one could make a game of it: every time you reach for your phone, you put a quarter in a jar (either physically or virtually – I wonder if they have an app for that?). Maybe it’s by challenging a relative, friend, or colleague to participate in an activity with you and compete to make the largest donation. Since time is money, maybe volunteering at a soup kitchen could take you out of your comfort zone and offer new insights into how you can contribute to your community.

Lent is a time to remove the obstacles that keep us focused on ourselves and redirect the focus to react to the needs of others. Making sacrifices can feel painful when we dwell on what we can’t have or do, but the discipline we develop can serve us well in any area of our lives.  And, when we add in a few well-seasoned alternatives, our faith and our relationship with God can be transformed into an overflowing cup of blessings we can share throughout the year.. 

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