Taking up our daily cross 

By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

Practicing the three pillars of the Lenten season of fasting, prayer and almsgiving may involve planning and creativity that can revitalize people’s faith as they prepare to celebrate the great Paschal Mystery at Easter, said clergy and lay leaders in the Diocese of Baton Rouge.  

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The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are made from the burning of palms blessed in the previous year during the Palm Sunday celebration, when Christians carried palms to recognize the Gospels’ reference to Jesus’ path being covered in palm fronds on the day he entered Jerusalem. Easter Sunday is April 12. File Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator  

 

For some, Lent, which generally lasts six weeks, is an endless test of endurance, causing them to ask, “Can we end our Lent sacrifices on Holy Thursday?” However, the practices of Lent should be part of a daily walk with God, according to Father Phil Spano, pastor of Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Baton Rouge.  

“In (Saint) Luke’s Gospel (Lk 9:23-24) Jesus says to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,’ ” said Father Spano. “Luke includes a word not in Matthew and Mark – ‘daily.’  

“The early church thought that Jesus was returning for his second coming soon. The apostles, first disciples and early witnesses were being martyred or dying off. This seemed to discourage many believers as the church had to adjust expectations. To ‘take up one’s cross’ might be a little easier if Jesus’ second coming was soon. Delay changes things, so it seems Luke includes ‘take up one’s cross daily.’ ”  

Father Spano emphasized regardless of “when,” discipleship is a day-to-day walk with Christ. Lent is a time of renewal and repentance as a liturgical season. But every day, before and after Lent, is also, “the day the Lord has made.”  

There are many opportunities for that daily discipleship walk during Lent, according to Dina Dow, director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, and Becky Eldredge, spiritual director and retreat facilitator.  

Eldredge said one should have a sacred place, such as a room or chair in a spot where they can “pause in wonder and awe.” But people can pray any time they are in a “waiting mode,” such as standing in the grocery store checkout line, sitting in a car or in the waiting room of the doctor’s office or taking a lunch break at work.  

“Discipleship is about showing up every day,” Eldredge said. “Just those few minutes of prayer can make a big difference and bring peace.”  

Dow suggested people can get up a few minutes earlier and pray. She acknowledged “it’s not easy, we’re talking habits here,” but it’s worth the effort.  

Praying is essentially communicating with God, Dow said. Communicating with God is vital in the same way friends and family have to communicate to keep a relationship viable.  

“A prayer can be as simple as ‘thank you Jesus,’ ‘I love you Jesus,’ an intentional rosary, an intentional Our Father … moments of gratitude, thinking what I am grateful for,” Dow said.  

Families that spend a lot of time “on the go” may set a day or two of the week to have dinner together and ask each other what they are thankful for that day, the highs and lows of that day and where they found God.  

The practice of fasting, particularly for those living in south Louisiana, may be the most difficult. But there are many different ways one can fast other than from food, according to Dow.  

Dow said fasting is sacrificing for someone else the way Christ did for us. It helps eliminate things that distract people from their relationship with God.  

They key to fasting is to add a dimension of prayer, almsgiving and service, according to Dow.  

“Instead of hitting the snooze alarm (on the alarm clock) maybe we can fast from snoozing and get up a few minutes earlier and dedicate that time to prayer,” Dow said.  

Instead of indulging on chocolate or that Friday night sumptuous seafood plate at a favorite restaurant people can eat a simple meal of baked fish and salad.  

“You can pray, ‘Lord I’m offering this simple meal for people who do not have food or this friend who is going through a crisis,’ ” Dow said.  

Someone who patrons a coffee shop on a Saturday morning and reads a book may forgo the cup of java and donate that money to charity or donate the time they would have spent there in service.  

Social media can be a great tool during Lent because of the apps and websites that provide The Liturgy of the Hours, other prayers and meditations. People can also set the alarm on their smartphones to remind themselves to pray for someone or to pray the Angelus (6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m.)  

However, if social media is a distraction, people should fast from it. Instead, they could use that time to write a thank you note to a person or visit an adoration chapel.  

“Any time you can spend in front of the Blessed Sacrament is a good time,” said Dow, who encouraged people to intentionally schedule a visit.  

If one is absorbed in busyness, Lent may also be the perfect time to look at what’s occupying their time and do some purging to simplify their lives.  

Catholics are urged to participate in the sacrament of reconciliation and to do an examination of conscience before going into the confessional. Dow recommended when people do an examination of conscience they should also do an “examination of calendar.”  

Eldredge noted God speaks through the sacraments, Scripture, the community of faith and “burning bush moments” like Moses experienced, through a sunset, birds or flowers. Lent challenges people to pay attention to the way God speaks to them. She encouraged people not to give up because God draws people close to him and people’s desire to draw close to him is a form of prayer.  

“Ask the Holy Spirit, ‘How do I get there?’ ‘How do I show up?’ Part of getting close to God is just showing up in prayer,” said Eldredge.