If my church does not practice Lent, should I?

I have to confess that I’m fascinated by Pope Francis.  I’m not Catholic and hence, have not really followed the lives of Popes until now. I cannot exactly remember when my fascination began but I vividly remember him choosing his name after St. Francis of Assisi who cared deeply for the poor.  Then came his environmental encyclical, his response to the Syrian crisis, his intervention for the state of Cuba, etc.  I cannot remember a prior Pope advocating for the poor, the voiceless and the heartbroken with the same passion as Pope Francis.  He demonstrates a genuine care for issues that seem to lie outside of the purview of the Catholic church, but seems to do so as if the future of the Catholic church depended on it.  

Courtesy of the Catholic Church of England and Wales (https://www.flickr.com/photos/catholicism/)  © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

Courtesy of the Catholic Church of England and Wales (https://www.flickr.com/photos/catholicism/)
© Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

For this reason, I am drawn to stop and listen to his words or learn about his actions every time he is the news.  And I get to hear his thoughts more frequently through Twitter!  

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This particular tweet caught my eye especially since I have been grappling with the meaning of Lent over the last couple of weeks. Since I did not grow up with the tradition of Lent, and my current church does not practice it either, I have wondered if this practice is something for me to consider in my Christian life.

For those who do not know what Lent is, let me first define it. It is the practice that honors the time prior to the death of Christ which culminates with Easter Sunday, the yearly practice of celebrating the resurrection of Christ. Most churches who practice Lent often encourage self-denial, penitence, and prayer as a way of honoring the suffering that Christ endured before his death. This often has come to be known as a time of fasting from something that either you are struggling with or maybe enjoy too much of for 40 days. But there is more to the tradition, which has to do with the state of our hearts.

As I have learned about Lent, I have come to understand that the tradition is also about evaluating how our hearts are getting in the way of us living out the Gospel—meaning, are we living out the greatest commandment to love God with all our heart, mind soul and body AND love our neighbors as ourselves? Both parts of this commandment force us to look outward, to look to the needs of others, to love. I think that is why the Pope has made a personal challenge to fast from indifference this season of Lent, which is what led to the tweet above.  

So how do you fast from indifference to the problems of this world? I think the answer lies within the concepts of Grace & Love.  

What is Grace? It is what we all need. It is acknowledging that we cannot by our own efforts fix ourselves or the world. It is recognizing that only through God can we make a difference and find the peace to move forward.

What is Love? It is what God first gave to us through the death of Christ on the cross. It is what I need to receive if I am going to reach out and love others.  t is the only way I should view a response to any need in my home, church, community or world.  

I need more of both of these practices in my life. Though I have many reminders of this in my faith tradition, I’m intrigued at the thought of spending 40 days focused on this application. And then I wonder, what would happen if the world were to also practice self-reflection, penitence, prayer and almsgiving (e.g. giving to those in need) even for just a couple of weeks a year? With the amount of suffering around us, could our world become better because of Lent?  It might be worth a try.

Written by Ana Lopez Van Balen

Ana Lopez Van Balen

Ana Lopez van Balen is a social worker by training who has spent the last fifteen years focused on supporting the healthy development of individuals, families & communities. She currently is the National Director of Community Development at Urban Strategies-a national faith-based organization working to tool, connect, and resource grassroots organizations to serve children and families in need. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband, both of which are big believers in living locally–knowing your neighbors, supporting your local community and doing everything you can to help make it better place for all. This means opening up their home to friends and neighbors, participating in the local food-coop and serving on the advisory council of a great local organization called Food For Life!​

About Ana Lopez Van Balen

Ana Lopez van Balen is a social worker by training who has spent the last fifteen years focused on supporting the healthy development of individuals, families & communities. She currently is the National Director of Community Development at Urban Strategies-a national faith-based organization working to tool, connect, and resource grassroots organizations to serve children and families in need. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband, both of which are big believers in living locally–knowing your neighbors, supporting your local community and doing everything you can to help make it better place for all. This means opening up their home to friends and neighbors, participating in the local food-coop and serving on the advisory council of a great local organization called Food For Life!​

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