Journey to the Foot of the Cross:
Bishop Ricken Offers 10 Things to
Remember For Lent
Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, former chairman of
the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis of the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops (USCCB), offers “10 Things to Remember for Lent”:
- Remember the
formula. The Church does a good job capturing certain truths with
easy-to-remember lists and formulas: 10 Commandments, 7 sacraments, 3 persons
in the Trinity. For Lent, the Church gives us almost a slogan—Prayer, Fasting
and Almsgiving—as the three things we need to work on during the season.
- It’s a time of
prayer. Lent is essentially an act of prayer spread out over 40 days. As we
pray, we go on a journey, one that hopefully brings us closer to Christ and
leaves us changed by the encounter with him.
- It’s a time to
fast. With the fasts of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, meatless Fridays,
and our personal disciplines interspersed, Lent is the only time many Catholics
these days actually fast. And maybe that’s why it gets all the attention. “What
are you giving up for Lent? Hotdogs? Beer? Jelly beans?” It’s almost a game for
some of us, but fasting is actually a form of penance, which helps us turn away
from sin and toward Christ.
- It’s a time to work
on discipline. The 40 days of Lent are also a good, set time to work on
personal discipline in general. Instead of giving something up, it can be doing
something positive. “I’m going to exercise more. I’m going to pray more. I’m
going to be nicer to my family, friends and coworkers.”
- It’s about dying
to yourself. The more serious side of Lenten discipline is that it’s about
more than self-control – it’s about finding aspects of yourself that are less
than Christ-like and letting them die. The suffering and death of Christ are
foremost on our minds during Lent, and we join in these mysteries by suffering,
dying with Christ and being resurrected in a purified form.
- Don’t do too much.
It’s tempting to make Lent some ambitious period of personal reinvention, but
it’s best to keep it simple and focused. There’s a reason the Church works on
these mysteries year after year. We spend our entire lives growing closer to
God. Don’t try to cram it all in one Lent. That’s a recipe for failure.
- Lent reminds us of
our weakness. Of course, even when we set simple goals for ourselves during
Lent, we still have trouble keeping them. When we fast, we realize we’re all
just one meal away from hunger. In both cases, Lent shows us our weakness. This
can be painful, but recognizing how helpless we are makes us seek God’s help
with renewed urgency and sincerity.
- Be patient with
yourself. When we’re confronted with our own weakness during Lent, the
temptation is to get angry and frustrated. “What a bad person I am!” But that’s
the wrong lesson. God is calling us to be patient and to see ourselves as he
does, with unconditional love.
- Reach out in
charity. As we experience weakness and suffering during Lent, we should be
renewed in our compassion for those who are hungry, suffering or otherwise in
need. The third part of the Lenten formula is almsgiving. It’s about more than
throwing a few extra dollars in the collection plate; it’s about reaching out
to others and helping them without question as a way of sharing the experience
of God’s unconditional love.
- Learn to love
like Christ. Giving of ourselves in the midst of our suffering and
self-denial brings us closer to loving like Christ, who suffered and poured
himself out unconditionally on cross for all of us. Lent is a journey through
the desert to the foot of the cross on Good Friday, as we seek him out, ask his
help, join in his suffering, and learn to love like him.