Glory be to Jesus Christ! Слава Ісусу Христу!
We're back to our regular church greetings which must mean... the Christmas season is finally over! This also means... Lent is almost upon us!
I know, I know... how can it be that we're starting to think about Lent already?! But it's true. Lent will be here in four short weeks, on Monday, March 4, 2019. In fact, this past Sunday, the Sunday of Zacchaeus, marked the first prep week before Lent begins. Yes, we have prep weeks to prepare for Lent, which we then use to prepare ourselves for Easter. We, as Ukrainian Catholics, like preparing ourselves for things, it seems.
It isn't a bad idea. If we have a big test coming up at school we need time to study the material so we have the best chance possible to do well. If we have a big game, we need to be mentally and physically ready to play the game to our best ability. If we have a big performance, we need to prepare ourselves through rehearsals of lines and music to make sure we're telling the story effectively. Life's big moments are all about preparation, and big moments in the church are no different.
But if Lent is already a season of preparing ourselves for Easter, why do we have to prepare ourselves for Lent? Lent, or the Great Fast, is probably the strictest period of time within the church calendar for the faithful. We have more rules around food and prayer time and going good works during this time than any other period, which makes sense as Jesus' Resurrection is the culmination of our faith, the reason we believe. I don't know about you, but when I've tried to go cold turkey into the Lenten season, without any kind of preparation, I've failed miserably in my efforts. It's as if I went into a dance rehearsal or sports practice without stretching and warming up; I'm much more likely to hurt myself or not put in the full effort needed to do my job well.
When we take the time to prepare ourselves to open our hearts more fully to Jesus and His Holy Spirit, we will be much more likely to have the right mindset in order to do just that. This can take a lot of different avenues. Here are some things you can do during this pre-Lenten period to get yourself ready for the Great Fast and opening yourself up to Jesus:
During Lent we are asked to refrain from eating meat (and dairy, wine, and oil, if you're being really strict), at least on Wednesdays and Fridays. This is the hardest one for me as I am a self-proclaimed meatatarian. One thing that I do now is mark down the fasting days on a calendar and then write in what I plan to eat on those days. The biggest thing I've found is I need to check out recipes that have enough of a substitute of protein for me to get through the day. Hurting our bodies is not the point with fasting; it's to be more intentional with what we're putting in our bodies and inviting Jesus into this sacrificial experience.
Check it out: Orthodox Mom has a bunch of Lenten Meal recipes.
Prayer is the life-source of our relationship with Jesus. If we're not praying, that relationship starts to break down pretty quickly. I definitely know this to be true as I definitely go through periods where I simply do not want to pray and subsequently feel incredibly anxious and unsettled. Prayer is also what gets us through fasting periods. Without prayer fasting doesn't work because we forget the reason we're doing it in the first place.
During Lent, we're asked to dedicate more time to prayer. Say, what? More time? The great thing about prayer is there are so many different types to choose from, and many durations. We can stay classic with the "Our Father," the Rosary, or the "Jesus Prayer," or we can just take time to meditate and spend time with Jesus in silence. Singing a Christian song can be prayer. Taking a walk can be prayer. Writing in a journal can be prayer. Reading the Bible can be prayer. As long as your focus is Jesus, almost anything can be prayer.
To prep for Lent, take these next few weeks to figure out how you would like to add more prayer into your life for the Great Fast. Find a meditation app. Talk to your family about reading Scripture together before meals. Lay on your back on the floor and listen to a hymn. Don't forget about your prostrations!
Check it out: The Edmonton Eparchy is hosting a series of presentations on different types of prayer within our tradition. Go to one or all of these free Thursday sessions. More info here.
First we have to learn to "be"; this is what prayer and fasting help us with. Only then can we go ahead and "do." Adding good works or almsgiving to our Lenten practice can again be simple, like smiling at someone you pass in the hall, asking someone how they're doing and actually listening to the answer, or giving a friend or family member a hug when they need it. Doing good works simply means being receptive to what others are putting out there and responding in a loving way, like Jesus would.
As you prep for the Great Fast, think about the ways you can do good works in little ways every day. If you want to do something a bit more substantial like volunteering at the Marian Centre or Habitat for Humanity, those are great things too. Write down all your ideas and then choose one or two for this Lent. The rest can be saved for other periods of the year.
Lent can be a daunting time, making us feel as if we have to do or give up a million things. That isn't the point though. As I wrote above, the point of Lent is simply to spend more time with Jesus. In our Ukrainian Catholic tradition we the tools of fasting, prayer, and good works to help us with that relationship. The key is to be honest with yourself, where you're at, and what you can reasonably do.
Wishing you peace and all the best as you prepare for Lent!