Lent Day by Day
Praise for this article:
I just finished reading these Lenten ideas and I am excited-Unknowingly, perhaps, you have given me the BEST ideas on how to "teach" Lent to my kids! Thank you! Astra Kremane Lent is the Church's annual and most persistent call to "Repent and believe the Good News." Repent means to turn away from our own ways of doing things to begin to do them God's way. This season is for us, especially if we feel we aren't big sinners and don't particularly need it. Jesus told a parable about the self righteous Pharisee and the humbly, repentant publican, and noted that, if we think we're OK, we probably aren't. We don't have to be Public Enemy Number 1 to recognize our sinfulness. We need only compare ourselves to the perfection of Christ and our lack of holiness will immediately be obvious.
The three days before Lent begins are called Carnival (carne meaning "meat") days, because, in medieval times, no meat was eaten during Lent. Hence, folks tried to "load up" beforehand. Today's revelry and gluttony on these days are a hyped up version of the medieval feasting. This idea of feasting before fasting has left many folks with a morbid idea of Lent. They think it's all about giving up things and making sacrifices, as if those were ends in themselves, which they aren't. The word "Lent" doesn't mean "giving up things." It means "springtime" or "beginning." Every beginning, every springtime, is a time of "giving up things" because the old has to go for the new to come in. But it's a good "giving up" like when we lose weight so we don't have a heart attack. Lent is the time to recognize that we need ongoing conversion. We've got to constantly redirect our spiritual journey according to a spiritual compass that always points right to the Trinity. That re-direction necessarily means giving up one path for another, but it's a very good relinquishment.
Where are we headed? In Lent, we are headed to Easter, and not just this year's particular Easter but the Easter of new birth, of resurrection, of eternal life. Lent reminds us that there's no victory without struggle, no crown without a cross, no love without suffering. We need to be reminded of these truths at least yearly because, when we do experience struggle, cross, and suffering, we can easily lose our focus and forget that they are the means God uses to bring us to victory, crown, and love.
Lent is forty days in duration because, before beginning His public life, Jesus spent forty days fasting in the desert (actually Lent is 46 days, but we don't fast and abstain on its six Sundays). What did He do during that time? He was in deep communion with the Father, regarding God's plan for Himself and for us. Satan came into that prayerful time and tried to throw Christ off track with temptations to plan His ministry in purely human ways. Jesus threw Him off. In our desert times, satan will likely come to us, too, to discourage us and make us look at the darkness instead of at the spiritual compass pointing to God. Lent is dress rehearsal for these times of trial. That's one of the main reasons why we ought to make each Lent the best we can. Life is a long journey, and we're on our way to our eternal home.
Catholics have many traditional ways of observing Lent. Some of these are:
Praying the Stations of the Cross
Abstaining from Meat
Visiting shut ins
Doing spiritual reading
Making palm crosses
Decorating eggs (eggs are a sign of new life)
Here are a few unique ways to observe Lent.
SAINT JAMES BEAN SOUP METHOD
This is an idea used successfully in our house for several Lents. In fact, the book describing this became so tattered from use that it had to be discarded. In his Epistle, St. James talks about sins of the tongue. In this Lenten exercise, we attempt to tame that small organ.
On Ash Wednesday, read James 3. Then put out a bag of dried beans and a box of raisins. Put an empty bowl beside each. Whenever anyone sins with the tongue, he or she must put a bean into the bean bowl. Whenever anyone says something nice to another, he or she puts a raisin into the raisin bowl. Which bowl is filling up faster? Do you like what you're seeing? If not, how can you change?
Read James 3 on each Sunday during Lent. See if the bean bowl is filling up less quickly as Lent progresses. On Good Friday, fill the bean bowl with water and soak the beans in it over night. Cook them up into a bean soup on Saturday and have it for supper. On Holy Saturday, use the raisins to make raisin bread, raisin muffins, or raisin pie for Easter breakfast. In this way, you get to "eat your words." In addition, your tongue ought to be tamer than when you began this exercise.
STEPPING STONES TO EASTER
Use 40 small stones or cut stones out of construction paper. Each morning during Lent, write onto one stone one virtue you would like to improve on that day. Then place the actual stone on a table where it won't be disturbed or tape the paper stone to a bare wall. Each day, add another virtue to another stone and place that stone next the previous day's one, making a path. On Good Friday, turn over the stones and read the virtues. Have you been able to implement these? What have you learned? On Easter Sunday, place a potted lily at the path's end or tape a paper lily to the wall. Thank God for helping your virtues to blossom.
CROWN OF THORNS, CROWN OF GLORY
Make a paper crown of woven strips of paper, or weave an actual crown from reeds or vines. Then make paper thorns. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, write one sin per day on one thorn and tape it to the crown. Continue this throughout Lent. On Good Friday, contemplate an image of Christ crowned with thorns and read the Passion. During Holy Week, remove the thorns and read the sins. Take them to confession and confess them, then throw them away. On Easter, receive the Eucharist with joy and then, when you come back home, twine silk or real flowers on the crown or tape paper flowers to it. Thank God that He has taken away your sins and replaced them with His Divine Life.
On Ash Wednesday, erect a large wooden cross or tape a large paper cross to a bare wall. Each day during Lent, write a prayer on a piece of paper and tape it to the cross. Make the prayer different each day. Each night, pray for all the intentions on the cross. If a prayer is answered, remove the prayer request and replace it with a silk or paper flower. On Holy Saturday, remove all the remaining prayer intentions and pray for them again. Adorn the cross with more flowers, thanking God for working in the lives of those for whom you prayed or are praying.
CENTERPIECE FOR CONTEMPLATION
Clear a space on your dining table and place a round tray in that space. You will add objects to that tray and not remove them at all during Lent.
On Ash Wednesday, place a small bowl of dirt in the middle of the tray. Read Genesis 3. What happened to Adam and Eve? Why? Talk about "Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return." Reflect on that dirt this week.
On the first Sunday of Lent, place a few coins on the tray to represent the events of Monday of Holy Week Read Mark 11:15-18 which tells how Jesus entered the temple and drove out the money changers. Why did He do this? What did it have to do with His upcoming Passion? What is Jesus saying to us about the proper use of money and of worship? This week, reflect on the coins.
On the second Sunday of Lent, place on the tray a small figure of a man or a photo or drawing of one to help you recall what happened on Tuesday of Holy Week. Read Mark 14: 12-16 in which Jesus gives his disciples instructions on finding the upper room for the Last Supper. What did the apostles think of Jesus? What do you think of Him? Contemplate the human figure this week.
On the third Sunday of Lent, place on the tray a small figurine or picture of a lamb or a piece of woolen cloth. This symbolizes the procuring of the lamb for the Passover supper the next evening. Read Exodus 12 that discusses the Passover. How is Jesus the Paschal Lamb? What does His sacrifice mean? From what did He save us? Contemplate the lamb this week.
On the fourth Sunday of Lent, place on the tray a picture of bread and wine or a small loaf of bread and bottle of wine. Read Mark 14:22-26. Discuss the Eucharist and how Christ came to give us His Body and Blood. What might our lives be like without this sacrament? Reflect on Christ's Eucharistic Body this week.
On the fifth Sunday of Lent, place a small crucifix on the tray in memory of the events of Good Friday. Read the account of the Passion in Matthew 26 and 27. Why did Jesus die for us? What do we have to be saved from? Meditate on the Passion this week, taking a portion of it each day for reflection.
On Palm Sunday, place a piece of palm on the tray. Read Luke 19: 28-43 which narrates the Palm Sunday procession. What does the palm mean to you? What did it mean to Jesus? What are the events that happened following this?
Beginning on Monday of Holy Week, reflect on the particular symbol for each day as that day comes, reliving Holy Week with Christ and re-reading the Scripture passages presented earlier for each day. On Holy Saturday, reflect on all the symbols. Read John 19:38-42. How did Christ's followers feel on Holy Saturday? How would you have felt if you had been there?
On Easter, place a lily or other potted plant in the center of the tray, amid all the symbols, to symbolize the resurrection. Read John 20. What does the potted plant say to you? Reflect on the plant and all of the symbols during the Easter Octave. Rejoice in the risen Lord!
We should try to make every Lent the best Lent we've ever had because the closer we come to the Lord during this time, the closer we will be to Him when it's over. May God bless you in your Lenten observance, and may your Easter be a beautiful testimony to your journey of faith!
Madeline Pecora Nugent