A “Used-to-be” Lent
This time of the year, these forty days of preparation for Holy Week and Easter, I often hear folks over fifty-five or so reminisce about how Lent “used-to-be.”
“Remember the tuna casseroles and grilled cheese sandwiches?”
“I used to long for Sunday when I could have a piece of the candy I had given-up for Lent.”
“Did I ever love the Stations of the Cross on Friday.”
“Remember how tough it was not to eat between meals?”
“I can still recall dad reminding us to make a good confession before Easter.”
“Mom used to love her sodality meetings, and dad his night of cards and a couple beers at the Holy Name evenings at the parish, but those were all cancelled during Lent.”
“Remember the ‘rice bowl’ to help feed the starving sitting on the kitchen table where we’d put our pennies saved from buying treats.”
“And remember how we used to so enjoy Easter, after forty days of sacrifice and penance; it was like we were entering a new life and the sun of spring with Jesus risen.”
A lot of that these days, what I call “used-to-be Lent.”
Because, I wonder if we’ve lost it . . . has Lent become a thing of the past?
Now, don’t get me wrong! I don’t want to go back to the “under-pain-of sin” mandatory fast and abstinence of pre-1967 Catholic life – – although I sure remember Pope Paul VI, as he lifted mandatory fast and abstinence (keeping it only on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent), expressing confidence that mature Catholics would now freely embrace penance and self-denial.
Nor do I suggest that there aren’t a good number of Catholics who still take Lent very seriously with their acts of sacrifice, more fervent prayer, and added deeds of service and charity.
Yet, I am still moved to wonder if, as a Church, we have lost the wonder of Lent, that these forty holy days have gone the way of holy days of obligation, fasting before communion, and no meat on Friday.
And all our kids hear about is how Lent “used-to-be.”
So, for instance, I’m at a great parish in the archdiocese and notice that they’re having a big dance on . . . the first Friday of Lent!
So, I’m at a huge banquet for over a thousand men, mostly Catholics, where the liquor flows and the steaks are medium-rare on . . . a Friday of Lent!
So, I’m at Mass in a parish where they sing the Gloria and have alleluias all over the place on . . . a Sunday of Lent!
I admire how our Jewish neighbors take their “high holy days” in the fall so seriously, especially the days of penance, fasting, and contrition . . .
Our Islamic neighbors fast all day and deepen their prayers for a month at Ramadan . . .
And here, my Catholic people write me for a “dispensation” on one of the six measly Fridays we’re asked to abstain from meat (big sacrifice these days!), if they even bother with the dispensation at all.
Am I being too gloomy here? You know me well enough to realize I’m hardly puritanical or a crab. All I’m asking is: have we lost Lent? Is it all now nostalgia, a museum piece, in the attics of our souls, as we tell our kids and grandkids how Lent “used-to-be”?
Lent didn’t just used to be . . . it’s needed now more than ever!
Let me ask you, is there anything different at all in your life, in the rhythm of your family and home, in your parish, this Lent?
Is it too late to get it back?