Meditation: What Lent Means to Me
Ann Lukens, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults Leader
Moody AFB Catholic Faith Community
For American cradle Catholics (those baptized into the Faith as infants or very young children), Lent starts off with getting ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. That always leads to questions (“why do you do that?”) or stares from strangers while you’re waiting in line at the BX, Wal-Mart or Publix or whispered comments about “dirt on your face” from well-meaning non-Catholics. Lent is a time to give up - or sacrifice - something we love to eat or do. Popular choices are chocolate or designer coffee; fighting with your sister, brother or spouse; going to the movies or watching a favorite TV show. Meatless Fridays are required. Some older individuals and families actually attend Stations of the Cross, but that number has slowly dwindled over the last thirty years. Some go to Confession; most attend a Reconciliation or Penance Service. Everyone counts the days until Easter Sunday. Families used to dress up and drag even the most reluctant members to Mass in order to satisfy their “Easter duty.” We then rewarded ourselves on the contents of Easter baskets satisfied that we had survived another Lent.
Historically Lent was the period of time before Easter when those adults who had been studying the Faith entered into the final “leg of the race.” Lessons became more intense. The small churches around them spent time praying with and for them. These adults were reminded that they would have to make a personal decision—a proclamation of their desire to enter into the Catholic Church. Church leaders during the first three centuries understood—and wanted converts to understand—that their decision to enter into the Body of Christ also meant signing one’s own death sentence. The conversion of Emperor Constantine to the Faith in 313 AD changed that reality.
Lent for me is a time for “re-conversion” or “re-commitment” to the Catholic Faith. I don’t focus on giving up something as much as trying to understand on a deeper level what it means to be a Catholic American. I was raised as an American cradle Catholic as described at the beginning of this article, but my path included faith experiences that enabled me to see with different eyes. I was reminded by the Church that I need to consider “the mystery of Jesus in the desert” during the 40 days before he began his public ministry (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #540). I realized that I have to shake off the dust (e.g., shame over a career failure; fear of what others say, loneliness, sudden death and separation from all that I cherish) that accumulates each year in my soul and spirit. That “dust” can easily obscure my path—distract me from what is truly important—and allow me to forget that I still need to have the courage to live my life in accordance with Church teaching … sometimes speaking out when others remain silent.
Ash Wednesday 2009 will be different for me. I was reminded very vividly in August 2008 that I came from the dust and to that dust I will return. Every day since then has been a gift - a second chance for me to live my life better.