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Going deep for Lent with youths and young adults

By Sr Renee K Hall OP

The season of Lent creates a space in the frenzy of our lives to enter more deeply into prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These practices are essential to us moving beyond surface living to what lies in the very core of our being. COVID-19 has compelled us to shift gears in many ways such as the rigours of online school, working from home, unemployment and all the health protocols that have now become a way of life.

This article seeks to present the perspectives of eight young persons who share how they strive to make their Lenten journeys of faith more meaningful. It will also offer some general insights for consideration which can make the pilgrimage of returning to the Lord and the truth of who we are.

“I fasted for Lent – I never knew that I had that much self-control and it was honestly refreshing and rewarding to know that I was capable of restraint” (Elizabeth, 17).

“I think about how do I want to journey with God during this time to deepen my spirituality…. a time of re-evaluation” (Celeste, 23).

Lent creates a space which allows us to become more conscientious of how saying no and learning to say “no” to ourselves, is a fundamental aspect of the life of discipleship to which we are called. A critical part of the self-denial of this season is learning to live with the discomfort of the spaces in our lives that no longer encourage us to grow and focus on what really matters.

Fasting could be done collectively with a group of friends who support each other by sending messages during the day with prayers and words of encouragement. This strengthens the sense of communion and solidarity that the Church seeks to foster.

“I think most young people only know of the basics of Lent …what would be great would be for us to know the significance of doing [these practices] Will this deepen our relationship with God? How do we know if we have just fulfilled these duties?” (Jamie, 19)

“I think there can be Zoom sessions where a group of persons…share their knowledge on Lent and also doing Bible study” (Zaria, 16).

“We are so involved with our phones and social media. I think it is important to use it to our advantage…There is a Bible app and social media accounts that speak on the Word of God and share who God is” (Marishel, 19).

There are many Catholic books, platforms, websites, apps, social media interfaces such as Facebook and Instagram pages which can be used for daily meditations, prayer aids, group study, all of which can fortify us on our Lenten journeys. It is an opportunity to learn more about the tenets and truths of our faith. This process will aid in the self-reflection that the Church invites us to engage in as we search for meaning in our lives and to discern more closely God’s will.

Lent is a time of deep questioning, facing the truth of ourselves, learning to look beyond the here and now, practicing delayed gratification and putting aside the things that distract us from focusing on God.

“ We can fast not only physically … but also emotionally by [fasting] from negative emotions that may become quite overbearing. This might be negative self-talk or self-doubt… [negative behaviours] like procrastination …young people should do more meaningful self-reflection and really find what God means for them and what a relationship with God means for them” (Sireena, 18).

“Lent [can be made more] meaningful by genuinely being there for others and helping them to deal with their mental needs [such as] anxiety and just making them feel as if they are truly heard, understood, cared for and loved just as Jesus wants us to feel with Him,” (Abigail, 17).

COVID-19 introduced the practice of physical distancing which brought about a heightened sense of loneliness, desolation and desperation. This Lent, make an effort to face-time or video call someone who you know to be struggling with depression. Also, if the opportunity presents itself, one can go for a walk or meet up at a favourite eating place, of course observing all the health protocols in order to be physically present.

This Lent we have the privilege of churches being physically open. Our faith is based on signs, symbols and sacraments, all of which point us to God and deepens our relationship with Him. If you have not done so already, please do everything in your power to return physically to the sacraments to be fed and nourished. Recalling the words of St John Paul II “young people, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! Be contemplative, love prayer; be coherent with your faith and generous in the service of your brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace.”