Lenten Lessons

Kendra Clark challenges popular views of Lent and invites us to consider other ways of acting during the Lenten season. What has your Lenten practice been? What do Kendra's words invite you to consider?

At a Catholic university, Lent is a time that unifies Santa Clara students. Whether they be Catholic or not, the SCU student body is one of character, and the spirit of sacrifice, faith, and focus resounds like a palpable sensation across campus. Ash Wednesday mass in the Mission Church is almost magical, with hundreds packed into cramped rows, the sun filtering through the high windows, and the orchestra and choir sanctifying the space with attentive harmony. Making my way across campus after the midday mass, I feel a sense of unity—of brotherhood—with complete strangers as we exchange acknowledging smiles at the sight of smudged ashen foreheads. Even for my friends who are relatively agnostic, something about Lent encourages self-examination and positive change. Perhaps it is the collision with the season of spring and the trees waking up, the rose gardens coming to life; as humans, we cannot help but be inspired by growth.

However, being raised Catholic, there is something that can make Lent routine, almost mundane. It is a staple of my faith. It comes every year with fasting, sacrifice, and demand. I feel pressure from myself, from my peers, from the Church, but it becomes easy to brush it off as a boring obligation. It is easy to play the part: fast on holy days, don’t eat meat on Fridays, make a resolution to make a small sacrifice or to take action, making myself believe I am growing in faith. It becomes easy to ignore the call. 

Instead, let us view Lent as a season of homecoming. For Catholics or non-Catholics, for Muslims, Jews, agnostics, for everyone. Lent is about realizing that this time is in fact not routine, not mundane. Rather, Lent is a call to return to one’s roots. It is about coming to a place where one’s heart can be filled, and further, striving to allow that fulfillment to overflow. Lent is demanding, as it demands that we become more. It demands effort. It demands action. Instead of sitting back, thinking of our little sacrifices as hassles to our daily lives, why not make Lent what it is meant to be? 

Why not come home?

I tend to feel a lack of creativity when it comes to Lenten promises. Every year, feeling rushed and uninspired, I decide at the last minute to give up sweets or junk food. However, I am coming to see that this is my go-to because it is my obligation-oriented mindset—my perception of Lent as a humdrum duty. For some, this kind of sacrifice may be highly rewarding, but for me, it is just not cutting it, as I find it difficult to take it seriously as a teacher of humility or a catalyst for development. As encouragement to all, I figured I would take the time to share some of the best Lenten action and faith-focused resolutions that I have encountered this season. Here are a few:

Go barefoot for Lent. (Yes, the whole time. I have a good friend who does this. It teaches discipline, humility and allows one to experience the gratitude of poverty, of having nothing more than what is needed.)

At the end of each day, write down three things you are grateful for. (Try post-it notes and stick them all to your wall so you can watch your collection grow.)

Write a letter to everyone who has had an impact on your life.

Don’t use your smartphone in the presence of others. Be present. Give people your all.

Avoid frivolous shopping. Purchase only necessities. (A good one for me to try.)

Aim to do at least one random act of kindness every day. Surprise a stranger.

These are just a few inspiring ideas for Lent, and although we are more than halfway through this season, it is never too late to start anew. Take action. These practices don’t need to be restricted to the realm of Lent, either. Pick them up for use in your everyday life to spark your soul, to teach you something valuable. 

Lent is about coming home. Come. The doors are open.

Kendra is a sophomore English and Philosophy double major from Denver, Colorado with a passion for poetry, Catholicism, Asian food, and alternative music (not necessarily in that order).