By Anna Capizzi Galvez | Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — How can Catholics and Christians approach Lent this year in a fresh way?
In interviews with Catholic News Service, two authors provided their insights on how to make Lent meaningful in 2022 — especially since this is the third Lent the church will observe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Think of Lent as a season of rest, said Paul Jarzembowski, author of the 2022 book “Hope from the Ashes: Insights and Resources for Welcoming Lenten Visitors.”
Many people come back and connect to the church during Lent because “there’s something that’s weighing heavy on their hearts,” Jarzembowski said.
“Lent is a time where the church invites people to lay a lot of those issues at the feet of the Lord and to go through Lent alongside Jesus who is also, we see in Lent, is walking that journey too,” added Jarzembowski, associate director for the laity in the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Tsh Oxenreider, writer, podcaster and author of the 2022 devotional “Bitter & Sweet: A Journey Into Easter,” said that this third Lent of the pandemic is unique in that many are saying they are ready to reembrace Lent again.
“It was almost like the first Lent snuck up on us” at the beginning of the pandemic and “we were just in survival mode,” Oxenreider said. “Then the second Lent came around and it was like, what we just had Lent. We’ve been in Lent this whole time; it feels like it.”
But now in 2022 many are realizing the value of the rhythms of the liturgical calendar and are acknowledging the good Lent provides in our lives, Oxenreider said.
One way to refresh your Lenten practice this year is to connect how you observe the three traditional pillars of Lent: fasting, almsgiving and prayer.
“See if there are creative ways you can dovetail what you sense God calling you fast from with your prayer and your giving,” she said. Together with your fasting, “is there some sort of giving you can do toward local food situations? … Focus some of your prayer on food insecurity around the world.”
“Not only does that check those boxes with giving and prayer, but it actually provides more meaning to the fast,” Oxenreider said.
To approach Lent with a fresh perspective, try to find moments of silence, Jarzembowski suggested.
“Lent affords us some time to really be quiet. If that’s quiet in one’s personal prayer space; if that’s quiet getting in the car and going over to a church or a sacred space; if that’s online. Wherever someone can find that quiet and you know that you have the time to do,” he said.
Jarzembowski compared Lent to baseball’s spring training in that both are practice seasons.
“During spring training, you practice on the fundamentals. You try things out you’ve never tried before so that when it’s time for the regular season, what we would call after Easter, you’ve had this time to practice. During Lent, (practice) moments to just shut it down” to gift yourself with moments of silence, pause and reflection, he added.
But while it’s important to find moments of quiet, it’s also important to connect with others.
“Lent is often about that inner journey; it is often about our personal commitment but we sometimes go to too far in personal and privatize Lent,” Jarzembowski said.
More people are observing Lent than we realize, he said. “Maybe someone you didn’t expect, maybe someone who doesn’t go to church often, who might be having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches alongside you. Maybe they’re giving up chocolate just like you.”
This year, “ask the Lord for the gift of boldness to be a little more free to talk with our friends and our family with about what we’re doing and ask what they’re doing,” Jarzembowski said.
“There’s something to be said about making it a season that helps us remember we’re a church, we’re not just individual Christians and walking around earth and just coincidentally at the same time,” Oxenreider said. “We are a body, and this is something that we do together for whatever reason. God set it us so that we needed each other and so it makes sense that we would need each other for Lent.”
For Oxenreider, art and music are two avenues to fostering a shared Lenten experience.
In her book, “Bitter & Sweet,” Oxenreider includes titles of songs to listen to daily as well as pieces of art to contemplate weekly. Art and music “can be a source of talking among your family and your friends about your Lenten experience and it doesn’t all have to just stay in your head,” she said.
Parishes are key in creating community during Lent, and parishes should consider devoting careful attention to planning thoughtful Lenten programs.
“Any Lenten program should have a first impression where someone should feel it’s accessible. For instance, a stress relief night could be something we could use,” Jarzembowski suggested.
“It’s language that accessible. You can feature prayers, songs. There could be opportunities for devotions, for rosary,” he added. “Helping people understand that this is how we in our faith traditional relieve stress.”
“The other ideal Lenten program is one that speaks to people’s needs. We are overstressed. We are anxiety-ridden. Do our Lenten programs provide a response to that? (Are) there opportunities for spiritual direction or mentorship? Is there a place for people to know they can go for even clinical support?” Jarzembowski said.
Ultimately, Jarzembowski encourages people to be patient with themselves during Lent. “Do something. You don’t have to do everything.”
While many can begin Lent with great enthusiasm, they can lose steam by the third week, Oxenreider said. She suggests navigating the season slowly and steadily. “To make it through Lent takes a lot of grace on ourselves, grace that God gives us.”