Some years ago there was a letter to the editor (I think in The Montgomery Advertiser) complaining about how cold it was for Mardi Gras, and why couldn’t the date be pushed back a few weeks for nicer temperatures for parades? Well, duh! Parades and parties don’t dictate the date: Easter does, and the system for determining Easter has been around, more or less, for about 1900 years.
But in the “old days” not only were folks not necessarily caught up in Carnevale, they knew they needed a run-up to Lenten penances. And so we had Septua-, Sexa-, and Quinquagesima Sundays: the weekends 70, 60, and 50 days before the 40 days of “real” Lent. That should tell us something about our view of ourselves! They were our original “Big 3.”
But I’m going to jump on that bandwagon and devote these next 3 weekends’ worth of bulletin essays to those very Sundays, and hopefully I’ll be able to offer some concrete suggestions for Lent when it actually arrives (Ash Wednesday is 26 February, in case you were wondering).
As we know, the basic disciplines are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. What can we do in these areas for this Lent? Let’s take them one by one…
Fasting—what we all hate to do! How do we do it? Sometimes, it’s by a mentality of “grit your teeth and suck it up” with whatever items we have chosen (chocolate, alcohol, desserts, coffee). Sometimes we make it; sometimes we don’t. But the real question is the attitude with which we give things up, and what we do as a result of having these regulars go missing for a few weeks. The goal is not to binge on Easter, after all!
Prayer—a positive to fasting’s negative. What extra ways can we discipline our souls and bodies with spiritual tools and benefits? Perhaps daily Bible reading would be good (a great idea if you cannot get to Mass during the week—check out the Mass readings for the day), or some time for quiet listening prayer (if you have kids, this will probably be 4:15 am!), or some extra prayer for someone you really don’t like (re-read Matthew 5:43-48).
Almsgiving—this is where the rubber meets the road. Ideally, our prayer inspires us to greater sensitivity and generosity, and our fasting enables it. Opportunities abound: the Rice Bowl project, 2nd collections, donations to our food pantry, organizing structured “random acts of kindness,” offering to drive elderly folks to appointments or church… Can you pick one?
The result will be an Easter far more fully entered into, a deeper disciple-walk with our Lord, a more solid rooting in our Faith—it will be a Faith that is not just a “Sunday thing” but an “every day” thing; it will be a Faith professed by living more than speaking. And that’s a good thing!