For those who observe Lent: make actions intentional, purposeful

Hannah Hunsinger | The Collegian The congregation prepares to receive communion during the Lord's Prayer at St. Isidores Ash Wednesday Ash on Wednesday, March 5.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent – the period of religious preparation for Easter on April 20. It is commonly celebrated by members of the Christian faith, including Catholics, Methodists and Lutherans, but can be a time of intentional reflection and preparation for anyone who wants to take part.

While Lent has been observed for centuries, what is actually means can be cloudy. But a very important part of observing Lent is understanding what it is, what the components mean and its intended purpose.

What is Lent?
According to the website Catholic Culture, Lent is a period of approximately 40 days meant to be spent in “prayerful and penitential preparation for the feast of Easter.”

Lent is an opportunity to take a break from the daily drama that can obscure faithfulness. It is a period of retreat to be intentional about worshipping, self-penance and turning a critical lens in on ourselves. Have we allowed material possessions to get in the way? Are we more focused on our worldly accomplishments than our spiritual health? Lent is a time to reflect on these issues, repent our sins and renew our promise to be faithful.

Giving something up
A common Lenten practice is to “give something up,” or deny it from Ash Wednesday until Easter. In practice today, it is intended to be a time to work towards removing unholy distractions and focusing on your relationship with God.

However, this isn’t always how Lent is utilized. Some people treat the giving up of something enjoyable for Lent simply as routine or something they “have to do.” That’s not the intention, and when that happens, the real meaning of Lent is lost.

Sacrificing something during Lent shouldn’t be like giving up pop or cutting back on your cable package just because you drink a Dr. Pepper every day or you watch a little bit too much of The Walking Dead. Sure, what you chose to give up during Lent should be a sacrifice, but giving things up “just because it’s Lent” isn’t in the true spirit of the season.

Instead, it’s important to think about what is standing in your way of a
better relationship with God. Do you spend excessive time on Twitter or Facebook
that you could instead spend praying? Are your eating habits preventing you from being the best person you can be to serve God? Critically reflect on your own faith relationship and find what is holding you back. When you give something up, you should be gaining a better faith relationship in return. If you aren’t, it may be time to reconsider your choice.

Oppositely, some people choose to do something additional during Lent, like volunteer or donate resources. Donating your time or resources for God can be wonderful, but it should be done intentionally. Consider why you are donating your time during Lent. Is it to make yourself “feel” better? Is it to actually make a difference in people’s lives? What kind of difference? It’s important to remember that Lent is about religious reflection and preparation; if you choose to serve, challenge your notion of how your service fits into your faith journey.

It’s also a widely circulated rumor that it’s okay to indulge in what you’ve given up on Fridays. I challenge that this is not in the spirit of Lent. Giving something up isn’t about not eating candy or not tweeting for 40 days. It’s about eliminating barriers to worship that can allow you to purposefully and thoughtfully improve your relationship with God. That doesn’t get a “free pass” on Fridays and neither should you.

Fish Fridays
During Lent, many Catholics also choose to practice variations of the idea of abstaining from meat products – generally excluding fish – on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all Fridays during the Lenten season. Historically, meat has been associated with celebration and feasts. Through Catholic history, there have been varying decrees about when to eat meat and when to abstain, including during Lent.

Fish is typically allowed on Fridays during Lent because it doesn’t have “the same status as the flesh of mammals and birds,” according to the University of Detroit Mercy, a Catholic University. Fish historically hasn’t been considered to be on the “same level” as other meat, which makes it permissible.

Easter and springtime are both almost synonymous with new beginnings:
Easter is the Christian celebration of Jesus rising from the dead;
during springtime, new flowers and plants grow, and animals are born.
Life returns in the spring.

Like these new beginnings, the end of the Lenten season is an
opportunity to be “reborn” in your faith. While, technically, the
sacrifices observed during Lent are over, there is a formal chance to
rededicate yourself to your faith and continue the improvements you’ve

A choice
Ultimately, choosing to or not to observe Lent is completely up to each person. Different faiths have slightly different guidelines for the period of reflection and purposeful worship, but the important thing is to do it with intentionality. Don’t just go through the motions.