Reflections: Celebrating Lent Differently

This February Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 13th. Traditionally Lent has three aspects—Fasting, Almsgiving, and Prayer. Most Catholics think of fasting as giving up something for Lent. Chocolate is often given up for example. Almsgiving is seen in a very good program, the Rice bowl, in which a Catholic puts money into a container during Lent, handing it in to his parish on Palm Sunday, from where it is distributed to worthy charities. Prayer is often seen in participation in the Stations of the Cross on the Fridays of Lent. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these fine practices, and, in fact, much that is right. But there are other activities.

Almsgiving can be a corporate act of charity like the Rice Bowl, or it can involve challenging unjust structures. Perhaps you could write a letter to your congressman about fair wages for workers. Or you could support distributism defined as the theory or practice of distributing private property to the maximum degree among individual owners. This concept was popularized by Pope Leo XIII in the 19th century, and has been successful in Spain and Italy. It can work to help fight poverty. There are hundreds of ways to change unjust systems.

The Lenten activity of Fasting could be construed not as giving up a food or activity but giving up partisanship. Instead of being entrenched in one position listen to another point of view and possibly incorporate the good parts of another person’s ideas.

The Stations of the Cross is a great Lenten Prayer, and so is the Magnificat. The Magnificat is the Prayer that Mary said at her Visitation of Elizabeth. Here is the Magnificat as found at the Universalis site [1]

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
  and my spirit rejoices in God, my salvation.
For he has shown me such favour –
  me, his lowly handmaiden.
Now all generations will call me blessed,
  because the mighty one has done great things for me.
His name is holy,
  his mercy lasts for generation after generation
  for those who revere him.
He has put forth his strength:
  he has scattered the proud and conceited,
  torn princes from their thrones;
  but lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things;
  the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
  he has remembered his mercy as he promised to our fathers,
  to Abraham and his children for ever.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
  as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
  world without end.

As an American this prayer is extremely challenging.

So here, then, are some thoughts on how to celebrate Lent differently.

—Father Mike Van Cleve

Father Mike is a priest for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston