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Catholic Family Fuel — Lent and Easter: fasting to feasting

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March 1, 2012

By Mary Ehret

Stations of the Cross. Covered statues and crucifix. Somber atmosphere. Wooden clackers. Give it up for Lent, which usually meant candy and sweets, or giving up hitting my sister.


Small meals. No meat. Tomato soup and grilled cheese. The rosary prayed as family on our knees. Money saved was placed in small, black box and used to buy pagan babies. The big question was whether Sunday was counted as a day of Lent or was it a free day?
So what is Lent? It is a time to prepare for Easter and an opportunity to take some time out of our all too busy lives to get ready for the holiest of our high holy days. Lent is a chance to spend some time in thoughtful prayer instead of running around willy-nilly and to think about how honest we have been with ourselves and others. How do we spend that wonderful God-given gift of time? Where do we place God in our lives? Is God first or does He get the leftovers?


To facilitate the process, we have three powerful tools:  prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These are the themes of the season of Lent. Sometimes they are called the three pillars of Lent.


Prayer is talking and listening to God. It is communication, quietly lifting our minds, hearts and spirits to God. Walk and listen or sit and listen. Don’t expect thunder or shaking earthquakes. Listen for the gentle breeze and soft murmurings. As a family, pray the Stations of the Cross, go to a parish mission, find a book or books in the parish library to share.


Fasting can be giving up sweets or dessert. It can be giving up an hour of computer game time or television viewing. It can be resolving, as a family, to be more kind in our language to each other and holding each other accountable. It can be doing something positive. As a family, we can decide to take 30 minutes before bedtime to pick up toys, clothes and games. As adults, we can take 30 minutes each evening to clean the garage or basement.


We can learn new habits, such as frequent flossing, or break old, bad habits like gossiping.
Charity and almsgiving can be setting aside money for a favorite cause. It can also mean the sharing of our time and talent. As a family, volunteer at a soup kitchen or second hand shop. Money saved on sweets or that daily cup of gourmet coffee can be put towards a meal for a needy family or donated to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Families can also visit relatives we seldom see or visit our former neighbor who now lives a nursing care facility.


The 40 days of Lent and the Triduum (three days) lead us to the great feast of Easter. On Holy Thursday, we recall the institution of the Eucharist and wash feet as Jesus did to show our care for one another. On Good Friday, we walk with Jesus on the way to Calvary.


We spend time in darkness waiting for the resurrection. On Holy Saturday we mark the night that Jesus passed from death to life. We bless the Easter fire and ignite the light of Christ. We celebrate the Passover and recall the journey we have made. We renew our baptismal promises and welcome new members. While some of these celebrations may be too long for small children, we can attend as many as possible. As a family, we break bread together. We care for each other. We share joys and sorrows as a family. We welcome new members. We are indeed a family church.


We shouldn’t see the pillars of Lent as a punishment, but a challenge. Challenge makes us stronger. This is a time of preparation. It can make our Easter that much sweeter — and not just because of the chocolate bunnies. How sweet the sound of Alleluia. He is risen! How sweet the music, incense and the bells. How bright the light and joyful the atmosphere. We wear new clothes because we are a new person in Christ. He suffered, died and rose for us. We have fasted for 40 days and will feast for the 50 days of the Easter season.

Ehret is the pastoral associate at St. Henry Parish in Dayton.

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