Lent starts tomorrow!
I grew up Roman Catholic; Lent was a pretty big deal. We would begin the season with Ash Wednesday, and make a plan to give something up until Easter. For me, it was usually candy, and come Easter; we would find a basket of jelly beans, Reese’s peanut butter eggs, malted chocolate eggs, and (of course) a chocolate bunny; all the candy a growing boy needs to break the Lenten fast!
Another fast observed was the prohibition of eating meat on Fridays. So entwined were the Catholic influences in a town of 55,000 with seven Roman Catholic Churches, that on Fridays the hot lunch menu at the public schools offered cheese pizza or a fish sandwich; only meatless options.
Then there was Holy Week. It began with Palm Sunday, the splendor of Jesus riding into Jerusalem with all the pomp and circumstances the church could muster. My brother, Dan, would always ply his art of taking the palms handed out and turning them into palm crosses.
Holy Thursday (let me translate for the Protestants; “Maundy Thursday”) with its solemn celebration of the last supper; foot washing, a celebration of the Eucharist, stripping of the paraments, and an overnight vigil praying and keeping watch over the host (communion bread).
Good Friday was the most solemn day of the year; the only day that mass was not celebrated. Instead, the vigil would continue with prayer and observing the stations of the cross.
Then we would hit Easter morning. Every mass was packed with regulars and the CAPEs (an acronym for people who only come to church for Christmas, Ashes, Palms, and Easter). Then an amazing dinner that always ended with a cake in the shape of a bunny; a creation of my grandmother.
This pattern was ingrained in me as a kid, and still influences how I approach Lent as an adult and pastor. Tomorrow evening, I will lead a service that will end with taking on the mark of a disciple of Christ made of ashes and will challenge people to give up more than candy, desserts, alcohol, or meat. Instead, I will ask them to consider giving up one’s “being” to the GREAT BEING who gives us life, breath, and everything. (Acts 17:25).
I invite you, Catholic or Protestant, to join me in this journey of repentance (turning back toward God) by adding more prayer, worship, and service to your schedules. And maybe this will be the start of a life filled with Holy Habits!