What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: February 18, 2010
Like a lot of Catholics who spent their formative years in the first half of the last century, my maternal grandmother was never completely convinced that the Lenten practices that our Church implemented in the second half of that same century were really kosher! She often recalled the Lenten customs that she had to observe as a young woman in the 1920s when Catholic Lenten traditions were much more rigorous and unquestionably mandatory. As much as I loved her, I had to remind her that the Church had followed many different Lenten customs over the years that were alternately more demanding or less arduous according to national customs, during times of war, and even regarding the age, health, and working conditions of people. Yet she had a point! The Lenten customs of her youth did demand far more from most Catholics than ours do today.
The Lenten season for 2010 has now begun, and Catholics everywhere are called to embrace the three-fold demands of this time of the liturgical year. We are all called to prayer, penance and works of charity—and that requirement to pursue these spiritual values is important and obligatory for all of us, no matter what our age or even our condition. People who may now be beyond the mandatory age of fasting of 59 are still called to respond to the Lenten discipline perhaps more through their increased prayer and acts of charity than with fasting, which might be too great a physical burden for some of them. Even youngsters under the required age of 14 should be introduced to the regimen of understanding Lent as a time for spiritual renewal and deepening of faith. They should be introduced to the prayers and spiritual practices that we adult Catholics hold dear and associate with this season of the year.
In short, we are all expected to participate in this season of renewal of mind and heart in anticipation of the celebration of the Easter Mysteries. While we may well differ in what we do during this season of grace, we are all summoned to mark this spiritual season with activities that are designed to help us achieve a conversion of heart.
The Church’s Lenten regulations are really a set of minimum guidelines that are intended to provide spiritual direction during the great season of preparation for the Church’s regeneration at Easter. We are all called to fashion a Lent for ourselves that brings us the spiritual transformation necessary to follow Christ into His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
In her own way, my wonderful grandmother reminded me that we are called to reach beyond our own comfort zones in Lent and to take seriously the Church’s admonition to pursue prayer, fasting and works of charity during this holy time of the year. May each one of us fashion an honest Lent this year for ourselves and pursue the spiritual values of the season with a generous heart so that we will be well situated to celebrate the Easter Mysteries with mind and heart renewed.