Simple, profound practices can make season special
Sometimes, Lent might be honored simply by folding a pile of family laundry before bedtime – while bringing meditations about Mary, Jesus and Joseph to the task.
Or adding a rosary to the daily routine, spending a little more time on spiritual needs and a little less with running errands, doing chores and worrying about the budget.
And sometimes the 40-day period of prayer, penance and almsgiving – marked out to help people prepare to commemorate Jesus’ dying on the cross and celebrate his rising from the dead at Easter – doesn’t go very well at all. But that, too, can be offered to the Lord.
Those are some experiences and a little advice three faith-filled people of the archdiocese – a farmer near Genoa, a homemaker in Omaha and a priest serving parishes in Genoa, Krakow and Silver Creek – shared with the Catholic Voice as they prepared for Lent, which began March 1, Ash Wednesday.
Their observations indicated very little drama, but a lot of growth, sometimes over the course of years, as one Lenten season followed another.
Growing in Faith
"I guess over the years each one (Lent) has gotten more spiritual, as I learn about my faith," said Jeff Cuba, a member of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Krakow, who with his wife, Brenda, is raising three children on their farm south of Genoa.
In addition to doing more spiritual reading during Lent, Cuba in past years has given something up, such as snacks or drinking alcohol. This year, he hopes to add a rosary, "maybe try to re-orient myself, think about the real purpose of life."
Almsgiving in the form of service to others is worked into his schedule, as well. He is the grand knight of Knights of Columbus Council 10607 in Genoa, which supports a seminarian, regularly cleans up an area of a local highway, and helps with church projects at three parishes – Ss. Peter and Paul, St. Rose of Lima in Genoa and St. Lawrence in Silver Creek. The knights also donate money to others serving the church in a variety of ways, such as mission trips.
Cuba said that over the years, Lent has helped him be more understanding toward his family, participate in Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter celebrations, and be a witness to others by attending Mass on Ash Wednesday.
"When you get the ashes on your forehead, it’s a reminder to others that you’re a Christian," Cuba said. "It’s important that it be known. We have to witness to Jesus Christ and to the truth."
Peg Ricketts, a homemaker who with her husband, Pat, raised four children in St. Philip Neri-Blessed Sacrament Parish in Omaha, said Ash Wednesday is "a time to realize the fragility of life, and the journey through Lent, to turn our hearts toward God."
As part of Lent about 20 years ago, Ricketts decided that before going to bed each night, she would carefully fold any piles of her family’s clean laundry. She placed Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the midst of that task – and she has maintained that discipline ever since.
"That year and every year since then I think about Mary taking care of Jesus, and how long Joseph might have lived. The Lord is a God of order, and I decided that I should be able to keep some facet of that order in my own house."
Other past resolutions have included serving only rice and sliced apples each Friday of Lent – "the kids didn’t look forward to that" – and having everyone in the house contribute to Catholic Relief Service’s Rice Bowl initiative.
A survivor of a major car accident and two bouts with lymphoma, Ricketts throughout the year starts each morning saying a rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet, leaves a candle lit 24 hours a day, seven days a week in a large, red candle holder on a shelf between her living room and kitchen, meditates at a wall filled with 11 crosses and a picture of her family, and each Lent does additional spiritual reading.
A volunteer counselor for the Leukemia-Lymphoma and American Cancer societies, she also maintains gardens at her parish, participates in a long-running Bible study and about 30 years ago with her husband began a parish tradition of regular donations to a local food pantry.
This year, she plans to give up her nightly treat of vanilla ice cream and pray for those around the world who must go without food, and write more notes to friends and others who might appreciate words of encouragement.
Letting God Work
Lent is kind of a yearly retreat, 40 days "in which we’re invited to conversion, to turn to the one who always, really, is calling us in a special way," said Father Bill L’Heureux, pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul in Krakow, St. Rose of Lima in Genoa and St. Lawrence in Silver Creek.
And it’s a shared retreat-like experience in the church that can be valuable to people, even in gatherings as simple as Lenten fish fries, he said.
"It can lead to quite a communal sense that we are in the season of Lent," he said.
Father L’Heureux said he recalls people having powerful experiences with the Lord during Lent, including those entering the church at Easter through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
But sometimes, the best of intentions don’t work out. And that, too, can be offered to Jesus, Father L’Heureux said.
One year in particular, Father L’Heureux said, he had a difficult Lent. He was working hard at the parish, teaching school and taking on other tasks.
"Anxious and busy, I had forgotten about my fasting and abstinence, and gained about three pounds," Father L’Heureux said.
His Palm Sunday homily was about his difficult Lenten journey.
"And I told them, ‘it’s not so much what we try to do. It’s what we try to allow God to do in us. Let God do the work."