February 25, 2014 // Local

Make a good Lent

Two diocesan priests offer direction that can lead to a conversion of heart

By Vince LaBarbera

What makes a good Lent? Many of the faithful prescribe to doing something positive —attending Mass more than once a week or community service — and incorporating the Lenten focus of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Two priests of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Father Daniel Scheidt, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Fort Wayne, and Father Chris Lapp, parochial vicar at St. Matthew Cathedral, South Bend, spoke with Today’s Catholic about what they would prescribe to make a good Lent.

“I like to visualize Christ’s threefold counsel of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as the spiritual exercising of our mind (prayer), stomach (fasting) and hands (almsgiving),” said Father Scheidt. “And in tracing the vertical connection between mind and stomach, and the horizontal connection between our two uplifted hands, we come to see the form of the cross. The intersection of these actions is precisely the conversion of our heart — X marks the spot: Christ wants our heart,” he continued.

“Practically, as a fresh way of embracing the deeper conversion of our hearts this Lent, I propose focusing each day on one of the corporal works of mercy — ‘feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead’; or the spiritual works of mercy — ‘admonish the sinner, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, bear wrongs patiently, forgive all injuries and pray for the living and the dead.”

“Families could write each work of mercy on a scrap of paper, mix them up in a bowl or hat, and after a short prayer at the beginning of each day of Lent choose one as the creative spiritual adventure of the day. The Holy Spirit will reveal the details,” Father Scheidt concluded.

Father Lapp added, “By way of clarification, the three foci of Lent (prayer, fasting and almsgiving) haven’t undergone much in the way of development. Perhaps their being practiced has indeed seen the trend from negative practices (giving up) to positive ones (doing more) in the last several years.”

“With that said, during Lent we are called to call to mind our sins, amend our lives and voluntarily suffer in order to be more closely conformed to the cross of Christ. Or perhaps more simply, we are to grow in holiness,” he added. “Thus, on the one hand, the things we do in Lent should not be seen only in relation to 40 days but to the rest of our lives, so it’s always good to embrace practices that we intend to be committed to, not only for the duration of Lent, but beyond as well. And on the other hand, Lent is a particularly intense and focused 40 days. Our observance of Lent is going to look different from our observance of Easter, or the rest of the year, and that’s alright,” he related.

“… Regarding fasting, and especially with the ‘normal’ phenomenon of ‘giving something up,’ it’s important to realize what ought to be happening there,” Father Lapp noted. “We’re not to just grit our teeth and simply try to ‘get Lent over with,’ but even these practices are meant to change us and assist in our growth in holiness.”

“On this side of eternity, we easily form attachments to things or people that tug our heart away from the Lord God, and we are divided,” Father Lapp explained. “Sure, we may love God, and we may choose good things most of the time, but our heart is divided.”

“Fasting and other ascetical practices, in the summary of one of the parishioners here at St. Matthew, is the process of finding God truly attractive,” Father Lapp said. “When we curb our appetites, this magnifies the void in our heart that we may usually give to something else — be it food, drink, lust, entertainment or the like — and we can then turn to the Lord so He can fill it. If we grit our teeth and push through without turning to the Lord (prayer) — and then to others (almsgiving) — we can miss the boat. Oftentimes, ‘success’ in this light is met with increased pride (‘look at how good a job I did in not eating any chocolate all of Lent’ — and it’s no wonder the Easter season can bring binges in those very things we avoided, which only demonstrates the depth of the attachment) or discouragement (‘I can never change’ and we throw in the towel during week two).”

Father Lapp emphasized that a good measuring stick for a “good Lent” is: “How will I find God more attractive? What does He want me to do in order to give
my heart more entirely
to Him? And when Lent concludes, do I experience greater freedom and find God more attractive than before?

“In practice, resolutions should be concrete and achievable. And as we journey through Lent itself, re-evaluation and intentional adjustment is far better than absentmindedly watering things down or giving up,” he concluded.

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