By Woodeene Koenig-Bricker
Working in a parish during the high liturgical season of Lent has many positives. Being able to participate in most or all the parish activities, being near to the church for a quick prayer during the day, being able to attend daily Mass. But it has its drawbacks, as well. When one works for the church, the temptation to turn Lent into a series of job-related duties is always present. Instead of thinking about your own mortality and sinful nature on Ash Wednesday, it’s easy to wonder if there are enough ashes for everyone who shows up. While the parishioners look forward to the Stations of the Cross, you may have to be concerned about finding replacement altar servers to carry the candles and the cross. As the parish rejoices in the Easter Vigil, someone (probably you) has to make sure the Easter lilies aren’t dripping on the new carpet. It just goes on and on.
So how can you keep Lent from being just more items on your to-do list?
Here are a few suggestions:
1) Go to a different parish for at least one Lenten activity so that you can participate and not feel pressure to “work.” In some towns, the parishes take turns holding penance services throughout Lent. Instead of going to your home parish for confession, go to a parish where you can simply “be” rather than “do.”
2) When you do attend one of the Lenten activities at your church and you aren’t actively involved in the service, don’t come early to help out. Arrive just before the service so that you can’t be coerced into assisting. If you are attending as a participant and not a worker, sit in a middle pew. It helps you blend in with the rest of the people and allows you to feel like a regular person rather than a staff member. While you are at it, close your eyes as you pray. It helps you avoid seeing things that “should be done.”
3) Finally, commit to a spiritual discipline outside of the parish-organized activities. By making this commitment, you remind yourself that Lent is not something you complete for work, but something you celebrate for the sake of your soul. Some ideas include:
- Read one or more of the Gospels as well as the book of Acts to rejoice in the incredible story of the birth of Christianity and its growth. Especially take time to read about the Passion, Resurrection and Ascension since they lie at the heart of this season.
- Take a box of food to your local mission every week or every other week as part of your own almsgiving.
- Add fasting to abstinence on Fridays. Or add an extra day of the week besides Fridays to abstain from meat.
- Make time during your lunch hour to pray alone. The rosary, the Stations, even devotional reading all can help restore your focus.
Whatever you do, make it personal … and private. By choosing something that you do alone with God, you can return Lent to a season of personal penance and growth instead of just another six weeks of duties to check off your daily planner.