What this season of sacrifice tells us about the mystery of suffering.
Fasting is not dieting; fasting is not an end in itself; fasting is not merely an exercise to increase willpower.
Despite the highly secularized world and decrease in attendance at church services worldwide today, Lent is becoming popular. Thanks to 40 days Lent challenges that has mushroomed in many parts of the world. These Lenten challenges are performed not just for spiritual purposes but many for social causes like care for creation, compassion for the poor and even for weight-loss and physical fitness. Many of these challenges have devised creative ways to utilize Lent for worthy causes.
Lent is the solemn religious observance in the Christian liturgical calendar which serves as the preparation of the believer for Easter through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, and self-denial. Lent lasts for 40 days. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on the evening of Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday). This is actually a period of 46 days. However, the six Sundays within the period are not fast days (Sundays are always feast days in the Christian calendar) and therefore not counted in the 40 days of Lent.
In the early Church most converts were adults, and in order to be baptized into the Christian faith, they had to undergo a rigorous period of preparation. Lent “was the time when the three-fold preparation — instructive, ascetical, and liturgical — was carried on by catechumens (candidates for baptism). Thus, Lent became a time of spiritual preparation and was associated with a number of penitential disciplines, exhorting the catechumens to divorce themselves from a life of sin in order to adopt a new life in Jesus Christ. Eventually it became a season for all of the faithful to prepare for Easter.
In recent years, many groups in Christian churches has expanded the meaning of prayer, fasting and almsgiving (the traditional three pillars of Lenten observance). They went beyond the meaning of fasting as merely giving up or abstaining from food like meat, chocolate, chips, alcohol or personal habits and in most recent times, technology habits like Facebook and Instagram. Besides giving up, abstention and penitence, Lent is doing some positive action. Lent could be a time of doing worthwhile deeds as well as spiritual discipline.
Comes the Lenten 40 days challenges. Lenten 40 days challenges are exercises, prayers and reflections that certain religious organizations have devised for each of the forty days of Lent. The 40 days exercises, prayers and reflection follow a certain theme patterned in the Lenten spirit of making sacrifice. Some of the themes are care for creation, charity, photography or even physical fitness. Exercises may include cleaning your clutter, donating money to a good cause, volunteering, visiting a sick person and many others. These organizations provide a downloadable list of set things people can use as a guide. The ideas are generally very simple and require not much thought or pre-planning and can easily be swapped for something else.
Here are some of the creative Lenten 40 days challenge. Many of these challenges revolves around the care for the environment.
The Franciscan religious congregation in Cincinnati, for example, has organized a Franciscan Lenten Energy Fast. St. Francis of Assisi walked in the footprints of Jesus, and today the Patron Saint of Ecology saw that all that God created was good and he chose to praise God in prayer and by his daily life choices and actions. How can we praise God in prayer and by our daily life choices and actions this Lenten season? How can we live so that nothing is wasted? (John 6:12) Each week we take a section of “The Canticle of the Creatures” and focus on it for our Lenten fast.
The Global Catholic Climate Movement has organized a carbon fast for Lent. This challenge is to take a carbon fast – to reduce the actions which damage God’s Creation; to reduce use of petrol, electricity, plastic, paper, water and toxins. It takes small steps for a more sustainable world, and by doing so rediscover a different relationship with God, with Creation and with one another.
Another activity that the Global Catholic Climate Movement has organized is a global fast for climate justice. Catholics from more than 40 countries fast during each of the 40 days, joining the Fast For The Climate interfaith effort and the Green Anglicans Carbon Fast. Each fast and pray for bold action to solve the climate change crisis
40 Bags in 40 Days Decluttering Challenge. This is a challenge where one goes through his/her home and declutter one area a day. Since Ann Marie Heasley organized this challenge in 2011, millions of people have learned about #40Bagsin40Days and countless participants have changed their life, created more manageable homes, and refocused their outlook.
Similarly, Patty Knap, a Catholic revert and a blogger with the National Catholic Register organized a Lent challenge: Get rid of 40 things in 40 days, The challenge is finding one thing each day that one no longer need during the 40 days of Lent. For most of us, this should be really easy. It could be a kitchen item, a jacket, a bike, an unopened gift hanging around. Go through your closets, drawers, basement, even the garage.
Another common theme for the 40 day Lenten challenge are actions in solidarity with people in poverty. The 40acts created by UK Christian charity, Stewardship. Over the years, 40acts has become a movement of over 100,000 people on a mission to impact their communities with generosity – during Lent and beyond.
The Haymarket Regional Food Pantry has organized a 40 Days of Giving Lenten Challenge. The daily challenge involved:
– Collect 1 can/box per day, and deliver your donation to the Food Pantry at the end of Lent (or drop off some cans each week).
– Pledge a dollar amount each day, and submit your pledge x 40 at the end of Lent (submit via USPS mail or online).
An interesting challenge is combining Lenten observance and photography organized by Rethink Church. The challenge involves by simply taking a photo related to the theme assigned for each day, and then post and tag with #Rethinkchurch.
Several Lenten challenges combine Lenten fasting and abstinence with physical fitness. The 40 Day Lent Fitness Challenge organized by Fitness and Festivals involves 40 days of exercising. Sundays are rest days and a time to reflect on one’s achievements from the previous week. A similar challenge was organized by pay as u go gym. Another physical fitness themed Lenten challenge is 40 Day Lent Ab Challenge. Day one starts with 20 sit ups. Everyday after, add 1 sit up, then offer it up in prayer for someone who’s sick. Can you do it for 40 days? No prize awarded for completion, just good karma, personal satisfaction and a stronger core.
What is your 40 days Lenten challenge? What is the 40 days Lenten challenge of your group or parish?