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Not sure how to “do Lent?” Here’s how some people observe the season


Justin Fatica | SrMarla Marie Lucas/Facebook | Archdiocese of Oklahoma City

John Burger - published on 03/06/20

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley
Archdiocese of Oklahoma City

Lent is a call to return to the fundamentals of our faith, beginning with the renewal of an appreciation of our baptismal commitment. I prefer not to complicate Lent. It’s good to give up sweets and desserts and such things, but it is far more important to fast and abstain from sin. During Lent, it can be helpful to ask, “Where does sin have a grasp on me?” “What do I need to repent of?” “Where is the Lord calling me to conversion at this time?”

Answers to these questions can be a guide for our Lenten journey.

Sister Marla Marie, Superior of the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light

SrMarla Marie Lucas | Facebook | Fair Use

I truly look forward to Lent! In our Maronite traditions in the Eastern Catholic Church, we call this season the Great Fast and wish each other a “blessed fast.” If a Maronite chooses they can go beyond the minimum fast and enter into the traditional fast, which is each day of Great Lent: not eating from midnight to noon and abstaining from meat and animal by-products.

Since most of my adult life was in a Roman Catholic congregation, my return to the Maronite Church makes my past Lenten fasts pale in comparison.

However, Lent would be lost on us, and many a Lent was lost on me, by focusing on the austerities and making it all an endurance test as my offering to God. The desert fathers and mothers have inspired me to see that my fasting and prayer are necessary to empty myself from my attachments, freeing me to go deeper in my dependence on the Lord.

This prayer from our Syriac Maronite Liturgy sets the direction of the Great Fast:

Through fasting and prayer, souls are made pure, bodies are made chaste, spirits are raised, passions are restrained, mercy abounds, and the Holy Spirit dwells in the soul that was created to be the temple of God.

Fr. Leo E. Patalinghug, Founder and Director of Plating Grace

Father Leo Patalinghug | Facebook | Fair Use

As the priest who connects food and faith for the family, I always get questions about how to approach Lent and the discipline of fasting and abstinence. As a way to help people, without sounding like a perfect authority on the matter, here’s what I say: Lent is a time to renew my fervor in the basics of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. I don’t try to make my spiritual life for the year based only on these 40 days, but I use these 40 days to strengthen my resolve for what I want to do for the rest of the year. Therefore, I become a bit more intentional with these three ancient Lenten pillars.

For prayer, along with my other prayer devotions and obligatory prayers, I focus on the cross and pray some meditation of the Stations of the Cross every day. I don’t necessarily have the time to do all the walking with the cross and candles at different points at church, but I recall the Stations and try to recall the “feeling” or “emotions” that Jesus had going through each step of the way. For almsgiving, I try and focus on the little and big ways to give. I try and be more generous with the small donations, carrying coins with me when I know I’ll be walking through streets with many homeless or people begging along the way. But, I also use Lent to renew my monthly donations to various projects.

For fasting, here’s where I struggle the most because I’m always invited to eat different foods and taste whatever is being provided for me. But I make efforts to give up the extra pleasures, such as chocolate, bacon and fried foods. But, I also try not to buy anything new, unless necessary, and instead use all the food that’s been sitting in my pantry or refrigerator. In other words, I try and fight the culture of waste with intentional eating and cooking.

Ultimately,  I don’t like to dramatize, but deepen my Lenten practices. I want to simplify my life, not create more complexities. I also don’t try and judge what others want to do or aren’t doing during Lent, but help them carry their cross. I don’t try and do all my spiritual exercises in these 40 days, especially since I take full advantage of any of the feast days that may occur during this time, like St. Patrick’s or the Annunciation or St. Joseph’s. St. Teresa of Avila inspires my Lenten practices when she says, “When it’s time to fast, it’s time to fast. When it’s time to feast, it’s time to feast!” Please remember that Catholics have way more feast days than fast days.  But both days — feasting or fasting — can help connect us closer to the God who hears our prayers, receives our almsgiving and nourishes our souls when we fast.

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