With our Lenten practice over, now what?

By Mark Lombard, Clarion Herald Commentary

With the celebration of Easter just passed, we see another season of Lent and its fasting and other penitential sacrifices done for another year.

Lenten sacrifices include for many those things they otherwise enjoy and are “giving up” as a sacrifice as a reminder of the importance of our Catholic faith. The “giving up” might include all alcohol or just beer or wine and candy or other sweets or those things which, as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website notes, “prepare ourselves to share more fully and to celebrate more readily (Christ’s) Resurrection.”

“Giving up” food items never really worked for me, after, even as an 8-year-old, I thought my Lenten sacrifice from meatloaf (the food, not the singer/songwriter), which I detested, really would likely not meet God’s smell test for giving him honor and glory during this holy season.

This isn’t to say that food is not a worthy area for Lenten sacrifice, as some Catholics channel those funds usually used to buy these luxury gastronomic treats into almsgiving for those who are more needy.

Even the fasting on Fridays from meat never seemed like much of a sacrifice at all for me, as I prefer fish anyway. And, in New Orleans, devouring parishes’ delicious fish fries through Lent feels more like living in and lovin’ the moment rather than “giving up.”

But that brings me to a question: What to do now that Lent is over? It might seem odd to ask that now as we have more than 10 months before having to worry about it again.

Yet, if the 40 days of Lent, as the catechism tells us, is a chance to unite “to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” and that is a way of tapping into the love of God and inculcating us from the temptation that leads us from the Father, then why stop – or maybe how do we take some of Lent with us on our journey throughout the year?

One of the great beauties of Lenten practice, beyond days of fasting and abstinence, is that it is not one size fits all, not, as the USCCB site says, “regulated by the Church but by individual conscience.”

Lent has always been for me as an adult a chance to somehow live better while in this midst of a mindset of sacrifice. Strange as it sounds, Lent is not a “giving up” but rather a “lifting up,” a reminder of the person I was created be, of feeling more connected as a child of God. And, frankly, I don’t want to have to wait until the partying of Mardi Gras is over next year to feel that again.

In my case, I, like so many in a fast-moving, social media-dominated world, need opportunities to slow down. This Lent, I decided that I would do daily meditative reading from a variety of perspectives, including Trappist Father Thomas Merton, and journal about it and how I coped with each day’s trials. That daily discipline reminded me that I am not existentially alone, running on a treadmill of activities and tasks at work and at home. I found more capacity to breathe into a world bigger than myself, and to better see beyond myself to find God in those I encountered, to more consciously wear the cloak of Christ during my day. And, as I said, I don’t want to lose that.

But my journey is not yours. For you, it might mean continuing or even beginning anew: to limit food and drink and other potentially addictive practices that may not be healthy; to make prayer a center of your life; to contribute your time, talent and/or treasure to a life-affirming and building cause that means something to you; to be more present to your family, your friends, your community; to reconcile yourself with someone with whom you are divided.

We have been given a glimpse this Lent as to the person we can begin to be. Let’s make as our Easter prayer and action that we, as an Easter people, continue to find those ways specific to ourselves, to simultaneously be Lenten people.

How are you continuing that journey that began at Ash Wednesday beyond Easter?

Mark Lombard is the business manager and a contributing editor of the Clarion Herald.

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