By Virginia Bell

Lent begins on 14th February this year, until 28th March.

My daughter, a very orthodox Catholic, and I have a difference of opinion about what are the best kinds of penances in Lent. She agrees with the traditional idea of temporarily giving up something one enjoys.

I feel that this is a wasted opportunity. My daughter argues, as does the Church, that it strengthens one's will power as well as makes an offering to God. My choice is to give up something that one should not be consuming, getting into the habit of doing without it during Lent, then continuing without it after Lent. Or start doing something that you should be doing, and keep on after Lent.

This regular discussion with my daughter came about again this year, and caused me to wonder what were the thoughts of my fellow Animators concerning Lent. Did they have views about what people could or should be doing? If penance, what sort of penance? If resolutions, what sort of resolutions? Is it time to bring something new to Lent, or are the traditional actions the best?

The Animators are people, mainly Catholics, who have been trained by the Vatican-backed Laudato Si’ Movement to inform and inspire others to engage in dialogue and action on the current environmental crises.

I think my favourite option for living Lent, given the massive over-consumption that the world is drowning under, is to buy nothing at all that isn’t essential. And if we carried that on after Lent, what a success!

Having garnered views from the Animators, I find that Anita shares my antipathy for over-consumption, and recommends that we don’t buy more than we need. She has joined her parish’s project of a community garden where they grow food for themselves!

Clare, while appreciating the positive sacrifice of buying nothing, prefers “to do something extra, something which has often become a part of my everyday life”. One example she gives is ‘Meditation Monday’, the aim of which is to manage stress, improve mood and find peace in one’s daily life.

Another extra she does is a 'Lenten Pilgrimage, where local people are invited to attend a different denominational church each Sunday afternoon’.

John likes to do a variety of positive things, so he joins ecumenical Lent groups and reads daily spiritual writings. To add to the variety, he also gives up alcohol. But he feels that the best thing would be to do practical action and outreach, such as helping refugees.

Geraldine is not so keen on “sudden, major change”. She feels that slow, gradual change suits some people better, despite her having successfully given up things permanently after giving them up during Lent - sugar for example. She would encourage both sacrificial penance and doing something extra. 

Susan believes that Lent is a good time “to examine our lifestyles and change our hearts so that love for God’s creation is expanded”. Especially, she says, to consider how ethical the products we buy are.

The Animators are agreed on restraint in buying being a good commitment for Lent, and Kevin adds that he tries not to buy anything new at all, reminding us that plenty of items, especially clothes, are available ‘pre-loved’. Along with other Animators, he also likes to give something up – Guinness in his case - and to add spiritual activity, like going to Mass as much as possible.

Menchu is all for not buying anything unnecessary in Lent, and also for continuing the habit permanently. The Ignatian Solidarity Network has a Lenten No-Buy Challenge initiative which she joins in with. She previously committed to not eating processed food, and changed to a vegetarian diet, which she continued after Lent.

Menchu’s Laudato Si’ posters in her church

She was very busy last Lent organising a Laudato Si’ Lent Awareness Campaign and a Laudato Si’ Lent Day in her parish, as well as presenting Laudato Si’ Stations of the Cross online. She joined in with several other Lenten activities as well! She encourages us to make our own poster display for Lent.

Stephen agrees with the idea of Lent being about doing more. “Giving up our precious time for others can be penitential, but so often brings unexpected spiritual benefits”. He sees giving up treats as “an opportunity to give more resources to others”, which is making something negative into something positive.

Like Susan, he thinks it’s important to find out how ethical the brands we buy are; he subscribes to Ethical Consumer magazine, and advises googling the name of a product or company followed by ownership.

I would recommend also, before buying a product, to google it adding the words ‘ecologically friendly’ to find the greenest version.

David agrees with Stephen about positive thinking - “thinking in a positive way and creating awareness is the way to go”. He also likes to add a spiritual exercise – in his case, the Stations of the Cross. Another spiritual exercise that he recommends is a nature walk, as a “helpful reflection on creation”.

While Sean agrees with the tradition of almsgiving during Lent, and donates to various campaign and charity groups, he thinks Lent is also an opportunity to spend more time in prayer and discernment, for instance studying the Mass Readings.

He prefers to think of resolutions as ‘objectives’, and to be realistic about them by using the SMART technique - Specific, Measurable, Accurate, Realistic, Time Related.

He sounds a smart man! Not like me. I would rashly make a commitment, then find to my astonishment that it is doable, the hardest part having turned out to be the decision to make the commitment. 

One surprise from this survey is that no-one seems keen on fasting. Not only is fasting traditional in Lent, it can have positive health benefits. Still, it’s not for me!

It seems to me that we Animators agree with each other in most ways – buying little, having a positive attitude when giving up things, continuing after Lent if we can, adding a spiritual activity. So, a mixture of the old and the new perhaps. It’s typical of the Animators that the new embraces concern for the natural environment.