Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

Lent came a little later this year, but here it is.  Today, with ashes distributed to remind us of our mortality, we begin our 40-day journey to Easter.

All negative connotations notwithstanding, Lent has an essentially life-giving function.  During these forty days, we take the time to examine our spiritual health and to step away from things that may be keeping us from opening ourselves up to God, to the life He wants to give us.

That’s one of the great mysteries of our faith: God, who is all-powerful and needs nothing outside of Himself, nevertheless loves us and yearns for our friendship.

This being the case, it may be helpful to listen to the following Queen classic, and imagine the words being addressed by God to each one of us.

Happy Ash Wednesday!

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…he’d say something like this:

Ron Swanson_LentCourtesy of Matt Swaim

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Schwarzenegger_LentCourtesy of Matt Swaim

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Ash Wednesday

Happy Ash Wednesday all!  I had hoped to get to Mass for ashes tonight, but I’m feeling a little under the weather, so I had to lay low.

Having rediscovered my faith in the last several years, I have learned some surprising things about the Lenten Season.  Here are some misconceptions I hope to clear up, for anyone for whom they remain:

1. “Gotta get those ashes…”

Contrary to what some (including myself 12 years ago) suppose, Catholics are not required to go to Mass or receive ashes on Ash Wednesday.

It is a great practice to get into, of course.  But obligatory?  No.

Ash Wednesday does, however, require the faithful to abstain from meat and to observe the Church’s prescribed fast: One regular meal and two smaller ones that, when put together, still do not constitute a full meal.

2. “40 days to go…or is it 47?”

If you try to count the “40 Days” from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, you’ll notice it doesn’t add up.

So you gave up chocolate ice cream for lent?  Good News: You can eat it on any Sunday during the Lenten Season.  Sundays do not count as “Lent days,” because every Sunday is a celebration of the Lord’s victory over death.  As such, it is day of celebration, not mourning/fasting.  So during Lent, we can think of Sundays as “oases” in the desert.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with sustaining your sacrifice into Sunday.  But if you don’t, you have not broken your Lenten resolution.

Along these lines, let’s proceed to #3…

3. “Gonna go to hell if I don’t give up chocolate…”

Perhaps the most popular misconception is that we have to give something up during Lent.  While it has been the practice in the Church for many centuries to make sustained sacrifices in observance of this part of the Liturgical Year, it is not something that we are obligated to do, strictly speaking.

But to give something up for Lent is a salutary practice, and one the Church strongly recommends.  Had to throw that in there, just in case you thought I might be discouraging the practice.

4. “No steak this Friday, but at least it’s only ’till Easter…”

It’s true that mandatory meatless Fridays are only during Lent, whereas prior to the Second Vatican Council every Friday was a day of abstinence.

Contrary to popular belief, however, Catholics are still asked to perform some act of penance on Fridays throughout the year.  This can entail giving up meat, but it doesn’t have to.

The reason the no-meat rule was changed was that our culture got to a point where giving up meat was no longer a sacrifice.  People could use Friday as an opportunity to enjoy fish fries, seafood buffets, cheese pizzas, etc., thereby eating better on Friday than on any other day of the week.

Obviously, this completely misses the whole point of penance.  The Church, like a loving mother, wanted her children to regain their understanding of this.

I won’t go into the nitty-gritty of such seemingly depressing subjects as penance, sacrifice, etc.  But I will say this: Penance is to be understood as something positive and life-affirming, not as something negative and indicative of an angry, grudge-bearing God.  I actually covered this subject in an August post — I will “reblog” that tomorrow or Friday, for those who are interested.

Anyway, these are some misconceptions that I once not only had, but took for granted.  And I suspect the same is true for a lot of other people.  Hopefully, this post has cleared up a thing or two 🙂

Image from Wikipedia

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Yes, I know, Lent is still a few weeks away.  But thought I’d give a heads-up to anyone who is interested.  Here is the place to sign up:


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Willy Wonka

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We are now officially in the second week of the Lenten season (for a real short video presentation on Lent, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vm3JK7JYAKs&feature=player_embedded).

For those of you who observe Lent and for those of you who don’t, but would like to try and “get at” what we are observing during this season, here are some movies that you may want to check out between now and Easter Sunday.

The Way (2010)

Emilio Estevez’ remarkable mini-epic “The Way” follows the journey of California optometrist Tom Avery (Martin Sheen), whose son, Daniel (Estevez), died while walking the historic “Way of St. James” in the Pyrenees.  Not a particularly religious man, Avery nevertheless chooses to take the journey in his son’s place, carrying his ashes with him as he does so.

The film is a beautiful, emotional, and deeply personal exploration of a physical and spiritual journey that I think anyone can appreciate.

The Tree of Life (2011)

From the Big Bang to babies, from happiness to suffering, from family to faith, from sibling rivalry to death, Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” is without a doubt (in my humble opinion, anyway) the most moving film of the last half-decade.  The film communicates a sort of sacramental view of creation and human life.  Through a highly poetic visual and cinematic style, Malick suggests — through a world of the ordinary and everyday — a creation that is haunted by a mysterious and holy presence.

I have to say, there are few films that move me immediately to prayer, and this is one of them.  If you want a movie that stirs up the sense of being personally loved by a God who invites you to love Him, see “Tree of Life.”

The Mission (1986)

The_mission(Trailer unavailable)

Roland Joffé’s 1986 period piece “The Mission” is a great look at the work of Jesuit priests fighting for the rights of natives in 18th century South America.  Fr. Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) is an especially shining example of selfless Christian love and resistance to oppression through nonviolence.

Of Gods and Men (2010)

Based on the true story of Trappist monks facing death at the hands of militant rebels in 1990s Algeria, “Of Gods and Men” is a deep and profoundly affective story of fidelity, forgiveness, and sacrifice.

Jesus of Nazareth (1977)


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If you have some time on your hands, see if you can get a hold of Franco Zeffirelli’s epic miniseries “Jesus of Nazareth.”  Well-directed, well-written, and featuring very good performances, “Jesus of Nazareth” really accentuates the mercy of Jesus and His healing mission in the world.  I would especially recommend this film to people who struggle with scrupulosity and negative images of God.

The Passion of the Christ (2004)


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And of course, if you’re up to it, try to check out Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”  Yes, it’s visceral.  Yes, it can be very disturbing.  But for Christians, it is an excellent source of meditation on how much it cost God to redeem us “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8).

And last, but perhaps not least…

The Lord of the Rings (Trilogy)


Yes, Peter Jackson’s unparalleled films based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy trilogy are wonderful Lenten fare.  Why?  Because they deal with such themes as self-sacrificing love, the value of suffering, and heroic virtue.  They can inspire people to change their lives, if they let them.

For those of you who are interested, here is a link to the first of two videos featuring Fr. Robert Barron’s commentary on “LOTR”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pio5pf-Eoi8.

There you have it.  Until next time, take care, and God bless.

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