Some words will get a different reaction from individuals. Mentioning “Lent,” the season leading up to Easter, generally evokes impressions of a somber, preparatory period.
Though the joy of Jesus Christ’s victory over death is celebrated on Easter Sunday, many faithful realize that there is benefit to penitential work often done during the 40 days of late winter and early spring that precede Easter. This year Lent begins on Feb. 14.
“Easter is the most important celebration for us as Catholics; the time leading up to it really should be the most important,” said Marissa Clements, 16, an Andrean High School junior. “We recognize the central events of this time, and though it is important to (always) be holy, those events are so important that you really need to go the extra mile during Lent.
Clements added, “The first word that comes to mind for me when I think of Lent is ‘sacrifice’ – that forty-day period of giving something up for God.”
By the third century after Christ’s death, the Catholic Church had established Lenten practices of prayer and fasting in imitation of the isolation and spiritual preparation of the Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah, and later, Jesus, who set out on a 40-day desert fast, where he was tempted by the Devil. (Matt 4:1-25)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 540) reiterates the purpose of this period: “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” Later passages flesh out the significance of the work of the Lord, who is "the new Adam who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation."
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence.”
For Angela Ruiz, St. John Kanty, Rolling Prairie, director of religious education, the term “Lent” brings forth images of “fasting and prayer … and I think of the color purple – or whatever it is called in the Church. I think of forgiveness.”
To ensure that her more than 80 students at the eastern edge of the diocese are properly catechized and in the spirit of the season, Ruiz said fellowship and sacramental offerings are increased in preparation “to celebrate that the Lord has risen.”
She called Lent “something important that leads to something more important,” and noted that the 40-day season leads to the 50-day Easter season.
“It’s important to think about it: you see how important Easter is, and how much greater than Lent it is,” Ruiz explained.
At St. John Kanty, Friday evening Stations of the Cross are followed by Lenten soup fellowships, an innovation in post-pandemic years. Sharing the Good News begins the Sunday Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program for children, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) for junior high students and tailored high school sessions.
Weekly reconciliation is made available for religious education students.
For a busy LaPorte clergyman, “many things” come to mind when he thinks of the word Lent. Father Nate Edquist, pastor of Holy Family parish, first mentioned the meaning of the Old English term, which hints at the “lengthening of days” during spring.
“My initial reactions when it comes to Lent, are of a time of interior renewal – a change of mindset and a sort of reset button … Both as a leader and as an individual Christian,” the LaPorte pastor explained.
Faith formation was key to the future priest’s journey through liturgical seasons.
“When I was young, I do remember growing up reading those Little Book series from (the Diocese of Saginaw, (Mich.), especially around the Advent and Lenten seasons. Around the dinner table, I remember certain little things we had to do.”
Father Edquist continued, saying the traditions were not perfect but were memorable. “We would light our Advent candles and have to say something nice about each of our family members. That normally turned into a fight because (someone) made some passive-aggressive remark.”
To be a strong preacher and empathetic counselor, Father Edquist picks certain days to “train” to be closer to the Lord by fasting, being more focused on the spiritual and less on the temporal. “I find that once I’m in the mix of it, it actually is beneficial for me; I come to appreciate more the reality of fasting.”
Andrean Spanish teacher Helen Brandewie called Marissa Clements and her older brother (and AHS senior) John Clements “devout Catholics” and “superior students,” and recommended them to represent the views of faithful youth.
Among five siblings, John and Marissa praised the guidance of their parents Rick and Jessica Clements, who they said have heavily impacted their faith journey. The youths are encouraged to attend as many church services and Holy Hours as possible at their home parish of St. Paul, Valparaiso, especially during Holy Week.
Perhaps reflecting the recommendation found in Matthew 6:16, "When you fast, do not look gloomy,” neither brother nor sister is glum during their preparations for religious holidays. Rather, they find their closeness as siblings as a call for perpetual “friendly competition.”
John Clements, 18, believes the end of the road of Lent can be a joyous Easter hymn. “The focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving is only going to change you if you put in the effort to do those things.”
Easter, he said, remains supremely important in the hearts of those who believe.
“Easter hasn’t become commercialized too much like Christmas – and that’s a very good thing because it’s so important to understand the scope of (Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection),” John Clements said. “It really changes everything. And throughout the rest of the liturgical year, the Eucharist is the constant reminder of the Paschal Mystery.”
Caption: Bishop Robert J. McClory preaches at the fourth diocesan Lenten holy hour, at St. Patrick in Chesterton on March 18, 2021. Many area faithful avail themselves of inspirational and sacramental offerings as they continue with prayer, fasting and almsgiving during the 40-day season of Lent which leads to Easter, or Resurrection Sunday. (Northwest Indiana Catholic file photo/Anthony D. Alonzo)