Ash Wednesday, this year celebrated on Feb. 10, marks the beginning of the 40-day season of preparing for Easter.

Ash Wednesday, this year celebrated on Feb. 10, marks the beginning of the 40-day season of preparing for Easter.

February 8, 2016
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Lent is the penitential season of preparation for the celebration of Jesus' passion, death and resurrection. Ash Wednesday - Feb. 10 this year - is the beginning of the 40 days of Lent.

During this season, Catholics are encouraged to pray, read Scripture, to fast and give alms. These observances are intended to help us to turn our hearts and minds to God.

Parishes and individuals organize all types of events to mark the season. Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sherwood Park, for instance, helps its members get into the spirit of Lent with a soup and bread dinner every Friday evening during Lent.

A talk on social justice follows the simple dinner. After that, participants go upstairs to the church for the Stations of the Cross, which are led by a different group each week. All money collected during the dinner goes to Development and Peace's Share Lent campaign to help the world's poor.

Attending the soup and bread dinner is just one of Julia Hamlyn's Lenten practices. The long-time OLPH parishioner also prays more and tries to do more for others during Lent than at other times of the year.

"I try and do the daily readings from the missal every day, which I probably don't do throughout the year," she explained. "I refocus myself on conversion, turning away from sin and turning back to the Gospel."

Hamlyn starts Lent with Mass on Ash Wednesday. "I like a glass of wine in the evenings so I tend to not have that during Lent. That's just to remind myself that Christ gave up a lot for us, and if I could just give up my glass of wine that wouldn't be so much to ask."

One spiritual benefit of the season is that "I feel more connected perhaps to Christ," declares Hamlyn. "He gave his life for us so if I can give a little more time and a little more effort to loving my neighbours as myself then perhaps that's the least I can do."

Mona Senez, a pastoral assistant at OLPH, plans to go to Confession at least once during Lent and tries to watch less TV. Like Hamlyn, she plans to attend all the soup and bread dinners and to contribute generously to Development and Peace.

During Lent, Senez makes sure she sets aside time for prayer and to reflect on the less fortunate around the world. The practice helps her refocus and become more grounded in her faith.

Sandra Talarico, a religious education consultant with Edmonton Catholic Schools, says Lent is generally understood as a time of prayer, reflection, sacrifice and almsgiving.

"But for me, and I think this comes from my involvement with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults for so many years, Lent is really about Baptism," Talarico said.

In Lent, catechumens prepare for Baptism by undergoing a period of learning and discernment. "So for me the highlight of Lent is that preparation for Baptism.

"It's important to give up things, to do things for others and to re-enact those 40 days of Jesus in the desert. But it's also a time for us to remind ourselves of our Baptism, of our call, of our mission and our faith."

Talarico says she tends to remain still more than normal during Lent. "I really try to take more time for prayer and more time to reflect and try to get away from the busyness."

Because of that, she feels closer to God.

"It's a time of prayer and reflection and an opportunity for me to be closer to God, to deepen my relationship with God. Not that it doesn't happen other times of the year, but during Lent I try to do it more consciously."

Ryan Ledene, associate superintendent at Red Deer Catholic Schools, says Lent is an important time of preparation for him.

"Lent always brings me back to that place where I am conscious of the sacrifices that Christ made for me and that I need to be attentive to continuing that relationship with Jesus Christ."

Ash Wednesday is an important day at Red Deer Catholic "because it allows the students to proclaim their faith by attending (Mass) and receiving ashes and sort of telling people that they are Catholic students and that they are starting the Lenten journey together," Ledene explained.

This Lent, he might place information about the Catholic Church in a social media place, probably Facebook, "so people can see the good that the Catholic Church does."

For Luke Gervais, executive director of the Way of Holiness Retreat House in Hinton, Lent is an opportunity to refocus on his spiritual life and to give to the less fortunate, especially in this Year of Mercy.

LEADING TO EASTER

One thing that stands out in Lent for Gervais is that Easter is the high point of the liturgical calendar.

"If that's the high point of the year, you can't really feast if you haven't fasted," he said. "So if we are going to celebrate that tremendous season of Easter properly, we need to fast first. To do one right, we need to do the other right."

Gervais plans to fast every Friday in Lent and to pray the rosary more. "I'm excited about this new liturgical season. It's an exciting time to kind of re-evaluate where I am at in my spiritual life.

"Every time we change the liturgical season, my spiritual director advises me to have another look at my personal rule of life and so that's my plan, to look at that and go a little bit deeper in my own journey."

RECONCILED WITH GOD

For Annette Williams, a member of St. Joseph's Basilica Parish, Lent is a time for prayer, devotion and reconciliation. "It's a time of restoration of my brokenness to be reconciled with God."

Top on the list of her prayer intentions will be her large family as well as the sanctity of life, a ministry she is heavily involved in. On Feb. 20, Williams will lead a vigil near the abortion clinic.

"I like to focus on the sanctity of life and that's one practice that helps me to be focused," she said.