Have A Extra Special Lenten Season this Year
Currently at number four on the New York Times Bestsellers list is Father James Martin’s new book “Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone.” The release of the bestselling author and Jesuit priest’s new book comes at a perfect time when millions of Filipino Catholics are practicing our cherished, ancient religious tradition of Lent. This year it started on February 17, Ash Wednesday, and ends on April 3, the Saturday before Easter Sunday.
Since Catholicism took root in the Philippines in the early 16th Century, lent has been practiced among a majority of Filipinos. It’s a part of Filipino culture and Filipino identity passed on for generations. We may move through various stages in life from youth to parenthood to old-age; or go through careers or live in different residences – but all throughout we keep our faith, our religious identification as Catholics and our Church’s practices. Lent happens to be among the most important time of the year for Filipino Catholics.
Over 80 % of Filipinos in the Philippines are Catholic, 65 percent of Filipino-Americans are Catholics. In Hawaii, Filipinos comprise the largest ethnic group of Catholics.
According to Pew Research Center’s 2015 Global Attitude survey, 87 percent of Filipinos consider religion to be very important in their lives. Of the 40 countries surveyed, the Philippines ranked 10th in religiosity.
Pope Francis said during his historic visit to the Philippines in 2015: “Filipinos everywhere are known for their love of God, their fervent piety and their warm devotion to Our Lady and her rosary. This great heritage contains a powerful missionary potential.”
What is Lent? It’s a Catholic liturgical season that occurs each Spring (sometimes beginning late winter like this year), and lasts for 40 days in which Catholics fast and pray. It’s a time of penitence or feeling sorrowful for our sins and faults. It’s a spiritual journey which ultimate goal is to bring us closer to God.
Why do we fast or practice abstinence? It’s a way of denying something we enjoy as a reminder that there is something more than physical pleasure. Fasting is a way to remind us of the importance God is in our lives. It’s a form of spiritual discipline. Typically, fasting during the Lenten season could be as simple as giving up meat each Friday during the 40 days. It could be something more challenging like giving up coffee or nicotine or all sweets. The point is when we have the urge to give in to that indulgence we give up, we instead think of God.
As for prayer (back to Fr. Martin’s new book), there are many different ways to do it. Fr. Martin says if we make it a daily practice (common during Lenten season), it becomes transformative. He says we can experiment and discover which form of prayer works best to feed our soul and build intimacy with our Creator. He says there is no secret formula for praying.
Typically, when we think of prayer, we believe it is our way to talk to God. Fr. Martin gives an interesting take on this, saying “We pray because God desires to be in a relationship with us.”
Often, in our prayers we are most often focused on the reasons for praying; in other words, we’re focused on the expected fruits of our prayers. What Fr. Martin explains the beauty of prayer is really the process of prayer itself. We get the first part – that we are talking with God. But the sacred part of it is the second part – that God is talking back to us through our thoughts, insights, memories and consciousness.
How we determine when God is talking back to us, Fr. Martin gives a few criteria, posed as questions: “Does it make sense? Does it lead to an increase in love and charity? Does it fit with what I know about God? Is it a distraction? Is it wish fulfillment? Is it important?”
Prayer also could not involve asking for anything at all, but only for it to be a meditative time, a short session of clarity and peace as typically achieved when Catholics pray the Holy Rosary.
Prayer could be in stillness, done fervently, or with tears or sung with joy. We can direct prayers at others we don’t know or others we believe whose needs are dire. Prayer could be followed up by doing good deeds.
Special Lenten Season
This Lenten season could be of extra significance, given all the uncertainties and suffering caused by the coronavirus pandemic – loss of a loved one, possibly our own health being compromised, or the loss of our job, business or financial security. The pandemic has brought about widespread isolation and higher rates of depression.
In our journey during this Lenten season, perhaps we can arrive at a state of grace and acceptance of whatever we face that we have little to no control over. We can also draw strength and fortitude to carry on, to continue to do the best we can. We can commit to living a more balanced life that includes spirituality among the other areas of great importance in our lives.
St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “Without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus – a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”
In our journey during this Lenten season, perhaps we go to God through fasting and prayer to learn more about who we are, who God is, and our relationship with God.