GARCIA-LUENSE: Opportunities abound to be intentional about Lent
March 8, 2022
(Photo by Pascal Deloche / Godong)
Lent has begun, and with it, there has been a notable increase in the opportunities we have to participate in our parishes’ liturgical, devotional and social lives. Stations of the Cross and Lenten penance services, soup suppers and fish frys, Operation Rice Bowl and St. Vincent de Paul collections all provide parish-based opportunities to engage in the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
One aspect of Catholic life, however, that often does not come to mind as being connected to the season of Lent is catechesis. Sure, the Elect and others preparing to celebrate Sacraments during the Easter season certainly have catechetical sessions. Ongoing systematic catechesis, particularly for children and youth, continue. But, I suspect most Catholic adults do not consider catechesis as a part of their specifically Lenten journey. That is a loss and a shame.
I want to be clear that I do not mean that I think parishes need to schedule a whole lot of additional “classes” for the season of Lent. If special intentional gatherings around specifically catechetical activity are planned by your parish, people should take advantage of such opportunities.
What I am thinking about, however, is mining the catechetical opportunities that already exist in the special Lenten activities that are already planned and in which so many of us participate. What I mean is finding ways to be intentional about letting the way the experiences shape us become more explicit. Catechesis need not always be systematic to be effective.
Many parishes assist the faithful in their Lenten practices of fasting by providing opportunities around meals that meet Lenten regulations. Soup suppers, frugal meals and fish fries are some common examples. In some instances, these meal opportunities are simultaneously fundraising opportunities.
Occasionally, these funds support parish or organization general funds, but in many instances, at least during Lent, they are dedicated to supporting specific social service ministries. In addition to partaking in the meal one could be intentional about learning what ministries are being supported, why those specific ministries have been selected, and how these ministries fit into a wider vision of Catholic Social Teaching. If one’s participation and presence are already supporting them, then knowing how and why they need to be supported is a logical next step.
Operation Rice Bowl, an effort sponsored by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), is another excellent example of how Lenten almsgiving can easily be connected to catechesis. On one level, it is easy for an individual or a family to simply use the cardboard receptacles to collect money throughout Lent and turn it in at the end. If this is all one does, then one is still doing a very good thing to support the official charitable branch of the United States Bishops that focuses on international work. CRS has, however, produced high-quality materials (available for free at www.crsricebowl.org) to help people reflect on the meaning of what they are doing and how this almsgiving is connected to a deeper understanding and appreciation of one’s Catholic faith. Making full use of these resources and videos can truly be eye-opening and catechetical.
In short, I believe that intentional catechesis includes anything that one does to discern the meaning of one’s actions and to arrive at a clearer understanding and ability to articulate what we believe and why we do the things that we do. This does not always require a class. It just requires a commitment to process, sometimes “out loud,” our actions and motivations. Given that, maybe each of us could make this Lent a little more catechetical.
Brian Garcia-Luense is an associate director with the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization.