Growing Into Lent
-by Rich Bedard
I grew up with 8 years of Catholic parochial grammar school and 4 years of Catholic high school. In those mostly pre-Vatican II days, I remember that being Catholic involved fasting and abstaining. You could not eat meat on Fridays, and if you wanted to receive the Eucharist on Sunday, you had to fast after supper on Saturday nights until Sunday Mass the following day. The Season of Lent meant even more denial. I remember my parish church with all the statues being covered in purple shrouds during Lent. Indeed the church had the atmosphere of mourning, and of penance.
The good Sisters at school introduced us to the three aspects of Lenten observance. For Prayer, we were expected to go to mass before school on Fridays. We were also marched to confession once a month as was done the rest of the year. In later years, we were again marched to church for a week of retreat. The retreat usually consisted of daily Mass, followed by Eucharistic Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, prayers, and a “daily retreat homily” by a visiting priest. The Fasting portion, I have already outlined, but carried additional terms that you had to fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as is still the practice today. For Almsgiving, the Sisters gave us “mission boxes”. These were small folding cardboard banks similar to the “Rice Bowls” that we see today. Each day we were encouraged to put some change into the boxes and return them to class at the end of Lent where the Sisters would collect the money and send it off to the missions.
At home, we recited the rosary on weeknights as a family. I remember all of us kneeling in front of our living room chairs with dad leading the rosary. In addition to all this, both at school and at home it was expected that you “gave up something” for Lent. Usually in our family, this meant giving up eating sweets including after meal desserts during Lent. We had Good Friday off from school, but were told to remember the hours of 1 to 3 p.m. The hours Christ hung on the cross. You went outside to play as usual, but something was different. It didn’t feel the same. It was much like when a family member dies and the kids are sent out to play. At 3 p.m. you paused to remember Jesus and His Passion and Death. Indeed you remembered all the details of it, as it had been told to us many times by the Sisters at school. And you offered up a personal prayer to Him. All these things were something we did, But were only told what our child-like minds could absorb as to why we were supposed to do them. And for me that did not suffice. The observances were more mechanical for me back then with the exceptions of prayer and Mass.
Easter Sunday, as if by magic, the church was transformed. No longer were the shrouds covering the statues. No longer did the church have the appearances of austerity, but was decorated in full splendor. And flowers where everywhere. It certainly had the atmosphere of rejoicing!
Oh happy day it was, Easter morning to come home from 7 a.m. mass to a delicious ham dinner and find that the “Easter Bunny” had indeed visited and left a basket of goodies for me! The basket was overflowing with marshmallow chickie babies,(you remember those right?) a coconut/nougat filled chocolate cross, a chocolate bunny, some chocolate/marshmallow eggs, more chocolate eggs filled with flavored nougats, (my favorite is still ‘fruit and nut egg’) and jelly beans. ..Oh happy day it was!
Through the years, the meaning of Lent has taken on a much deeper meaning. The child like faith instilled by the Good Shepherd Sisters has matured greatly. The meaning of Lent changed from a general sense of trying to be holier during Lent, to a focus on the *Sacraments of Initiation and Christ’s gift of Salvation He accomplished for each of us through his Passion and Death. I have come to understand that every Sunday Mass is a weekly celebration of the Easter Event. And It now includes wanting to give up everything for Christ throughout the year. All those small acts of self denial we learned as kids and others I have learned as an adult are to help bring us to a complete dying to self, of complete dying to sin and complete turning to God. Lent is an invitation to total conversion of heart. It means renewing our Baptismal promises. It means returning to God all He has given me, realizing that the gifts, both temporal and spiritual He has given me are not meant to be hoarded , but shared with everyone. The words of invitation of St. Paul echo in my ears:
“But those things I used to consider gain I have now reappraised as loss in the light of Christ. I have come to rate all as loss in the light of the surpassing knowledge of my Lord Jesus Christ. For his sake I have forfeited everything; I have accounted all else as rubbish so that Christ may be my wealth and I may be in him, not having any justice of my own based on observance of the law. The justice I possess is that which comes through faith in Christ. It has its origin in God and is based on faith. I wish to know Christ and the power flowing from his resurrection; likewise to know how to share in his sufferings by being formed into the pattern of his death. Thus do I hope that I may arrive at ressurrection from the dead.
It is not that I have reached it yet, or have already finished my course; but I am racing to grasp the prize if possible, since I have been grasped by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not think of myself as having reached the finish line. I give no thought to what lies behind but push on to what is ahead. My entire attention is on the finish line as I run toward the prize to which God calls me –life on high in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3: 7-14)
I have come to realize that like my good parents who gave us Easter baskets on Easter morning as kids, at the end of our lives, on that day of Salvation, those who have persevered to the end can look forward and rejoice and say ….. Oh Happy Day!
For we cannot begin to imagine the joys that await the faithful in heaven! …Oh Happy Day!
*The Sacraments of Initiation for adult catechumens normally take place at the Easter Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday. They are threefold; Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
© copyright 2002 Richard Bedard.
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