Recently, I've had a couple of LDS friends reach out and ask me about Lent, and how they might get involved in their preparation for Easter. Now as an adult, I think this is awesome, but I will admit that that was not always the case. Mainly in high school, friends would tell me how they had "fasted" for the full forty days by giving up chewing gum, and I'd roll my eyes far, far into the back of my head. In my mind, this was nigh unto cultural appropriation, and in some cases I was right to think so. Lent for the devoted disciple of Christ is a very context heavy-time of year that is really kind of demanding for adult members of the Catholic church. Do all Catholics "do Lent" the same way? Absolutely not! But I wanted to tell me friends that Lent is more than just not doing something.
As I've matured, however, I realized why so many of my LDS friends were interested in the 40 days set aside to prepare for Easter. I realized it was actually really nice to have goals to strive for and rules to follow to be continuously mindful of the Savior's eternal sacrifice and it's upcoming celebration. Even after I got baptized, I did my own little Mormon-hybrid version of Lent, and I continue to do that this year. Considering I have more experience with Lent than the average Latter-day Saint, I thought I might list some of the things I have done in the past to prepare for the Easter season.
Fasting during the season of Lent can mean a whole lot of things for a whole lot of different Catholics. To the majority, it means giving up one bad habit or another for 40 days. It also means not eating red meat on Fridays, but instead eating fish. For others, it means not eating any red meat throughout the 40 days, abstaining from all food on Fridays, going to mass every day, and avoiding sin and temptation at all cost. My family fell somewhere in-between. After I turned 14 and I was a confirmed, adult member of the Catholic church, my dad encouraged me to only eat one large meal per day or eat smaller portions throughout the day, no red meat on Fridays, church 2-3 times a week, and in addition to giving up a bad habit, I tried to pick up a new, better habit.
Although I don't limit my food consumption now-a-days, I still try to practice some of the principles my dad taught me. This year for Lent, I'm giving up all carbonated, sugary beverages, which includes my dear, beloved Diet Coke (pray for me). As my dad always taught me, however, Jesus cares a whole lot more about what you plan to do for him than what you plan not to do for yourself. I've prayerfully considered what might be the best route for me to grow closer to the Savior this Lenten season, and I'd be happy to share it with you individually. On this public forum, however, I won't. Another tenant of Lent is prayerful, individual communion with God. To me, those have always been sacred experiences that happen for my individual well-being, and not for a self-important social media post. Although I won't share what I'm doing specifically, below is a list of a few ideas of what you might want to consider for the next 40 days:
- Increased Temple Attendance
- Consistent fasting
- Commitment to your Visiting/Home Teaching
- Consistent scripture study
- Honoring your body (i.e. drinking more water, improved eating habits, body positivity, etc.)
- Serving your spouse, loved-one, or someone in need
- Being more Christ-centered in your social media involvement
Stations of the Cross
If you walk into any Catholic church during Lent at various times throughout the day and definitely on Friday evenings, you'll most likely stumble upon the Stations of the Cross being observed. Every Friday at 4:45pm, my dad would drag my brother and me by the scruff into the church for this very purpose. For the sake of transparency, I will admit this was something I dreaded as a kid. Attending Mass every Sunday was hard enough, but now we had to go twice a week for an even longer stretch of time, and kneel and stand for far longer stretches of time? It was pure, unadulterated torture in my prepubescent mind.
As I reflect upon what the Stations of the Cross actually accomplish, however, I realize what an important opportunity it provides for disciples of Christ (and how overdramatic I was, but that's a common theme). The Stations of the Cross is a devotional where the priest guides parishioners through the 14 stages of Christ's final conviction, crucifixion, and resurrection. It does an excellent job of explaining the detail and significance of every step the Savior took on his long walk back home to Heavenly Father. There are a whole lot of Holy Days of Obligation during Lent, but I would recommend attending at least one Stations of the Cross devotional in centering your mind on the suffering and sacrifice of the Savior. Which conveniently leads me into my next suggestion...
Study of the Atonement
During the season of Lent, Catholics are encouraged to attend Confession at least once before Easter. This is where you go into a private room or booth with your priest, confess your sins, and receive a penance. Usually a penance consists of a prescription of prayers to say before Mass every Sunday and principles of the gospel to meditate upon. Obviously we as Latter-day Saints cannot attend a confessional, but we can attend to studying the Atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ! And believe me, that is a much more exciting option! Just as we commit our minds and bodies to God during these next 40 days, we also commit our spirits.
Imagine if you were to stand before the face of God today: would you feel comfortable? would you feel clean? If you answered no, you're in good company. I cannot think of any better use of time throughout Lent (or any time of year for that matter) than studying the ultimate, atoning sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us. A sacrifice that allows us to return to our Father in Heaven, be reunited with our families, and learn the secrets of the eternities. Now, my friends, is the time not only to repent and to seek forgiveness, but also to learn more about and reflect upon the single most important event in the history of the world.
So in conclusion...
You certainly don't have to practice Lent in order to prepare for the Easter season, but I do think Lent provides a great framework for prayerful preparation. There are a myriad of resources on lds.org, Pinterest, and other blogs for how to best welcome the Spirit of Easter into your heart, but at the end of day you have to find something that works best for you. Through whatever medium, I invite all of us to celebrate the resurrection and atoning sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ through prayer, mindful meditation, and increased love toward our fellow man.