Living the Lenten season

Halen Doughty

"Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy." - Pope Francis

The Lenten season is upon us. It's a time for reflection, penance, and sacrifice. As a lifelong Catholic, Lent has always been one of my favorite times of year - and not just because of all the seafood. Growing up I looked forward to hearing the Stations of the Cross every Friday night during Lent. Even if you are not Catholic or even a religious person, I feel like everyone can learn something from the practices of self-denial and penance.

We live in a world where we often take luxury for granted. Many of us, I believe, don't even realize just how good we have it. We look at others who are better off or live in bigger homes or bring home larger paychecks, and we lose sight of how blessed we really are. By choosing to sacrifice something we enjoy - whether it be chocolate or alcohol or a certain snack - we are acknowledging that we don't really need all of the luxuries that we have. We learn more about the things that truly matter, like family and peace of mind.

Penance is another staple of this period in the liturgical year. It can be difficult for many of us to admit wrongdoing. Acknowledging that we have sinned can also be a struggle, as many of us good Christian folk would like to think we live our lives the way Jesus wanted us to. But sin is part of humanity. We are both with it innately, according to Catholic teaching of original sin. Communal penance and other forms of repentance remind us that we are flawed, and that's perfectly fine.

It's a time for us to sit back and examine our choices. We ask ourselves what have I done wrong and how can I do better. Without recognizing our shortcomings, we cannot grow. This it the perfect time of year to think about the ways we may fall short and how we can live closer to God. I don't think God expects us to be perfect. I think He calls on us to seek Him out at all times and constantly move more into His light. As Jesus takes his journey to Calvary, I like to use this time to walk with Him in my own way by taking up my cross and moving closer to God.

The story of Christ's journey to the cross is filled with betrayal and judgement. Even the the apostle Peter denied Jesus three times, and Jesus loved him still. I think we could all learn from that kind of love and forgiveness. Just as we sometimes fail to live as God calls us to, so will others. As we pray for our own forgiveness, I hope we can also pray for the strength and love to forgive others. Lent is all about giving up things, so maybe resentments can be something we give up too.

I think I pray more during Lent than any other time of the year. It may be because there are so many wonderful prayers for this time of year, or that I try to say the rosary more during these forty days. Talking to God has wonderful benefits. I think too many people only pray when they need something, but having conversations with God is one of the best forms of therapy there is. Praying for forgiveness and saying prayers of gratitude does wonders for the soul. It forces us to come face-to-face with our problems and makes us take notice of the blessings in our lives.

But praying is about more than just talking to God, it's also about listening. That's where meditation comes in. Sitting in the quiet and allowing God the space to talk back is how we get the answers. Take time to sit with God. Many of us live busy lives and don't often carve out enough time in the day for reflection and meditation. Lent is a perfect time for that. Maybe what you give up is one TV show a night and instead take that time to meditate or read the Good Book.

Like I said, even if religion isn't your thing, I think just about everyone could use a little more quiet time and self-reflection. Check in with yourself on keeping up with your New Year's resolutions or make amends with someone you hurt. You'd be surprised how much better you feel after getting things off your heart that are weighing you down.

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