Thursday, March 15, 2012

Each generation needs to learn "how to" Lent

By Steve Valenzuela
Director, Office of Small Faith Communities

Right before the start of Lent I began a furlough day, those unpaid but welcome respites from work many of us have now, with one of my pop culture customs: a café Americano and Facebook time at a Starbucks. When I arrived the shop was packed with an especially eclectic blend of customers including a gaggle of adolescent girls (a team or something, I surmised) talking, giggling obviously on their way somewhere, some workers in various kinds of business attire or uniforms on a morning coffee break or on their way to work, and an “alternative” looking couple covered in tattoos. At one table was a set of 20-somethings (2 women and 1 guy) who were just hanging out, joking, laughing and relaxing. Since the 40-day retreat was upon us again, I wondered if these three might be Catholic. There was a chance I thought since two of three looked Latino but in today’s world especially, looks can and usually are deceiving. Recent information I’ve read notes that the fastest growing religion in Mexico is Mormonism and in the U.S., well, its “no religion.” Were these Millennials having a last latte before giving them up in kind of a post-modern pop-Fast? I figured probably not, but it got me thinking about how each generation needs to figure out how to LENT. In our fast paced, techno-cacophonous society, how do all of us, Boomers, Xers, Millennials, teens and tweens make sense of the annual call to prayer, fasting and almsgiving that our ancient and ever new Faith invites to observe each spring?

The tradition hands us a set of beliefs and practices which, if my religious educator friends are correct, are being given to an increasingly secularized and extremely busy (read no time for church stuff) set of teens, families, and young adults. The census tells us these under-30 year olds are mostly single and plan to stay that way for a while, if not always in light of our economy! Having been preparing a group of these 20-somethings for Confirmation this year, I can attest to their basic goodness, youthful energy and playfulness. While many are unfamiliar with the basic tenets of our faith, several were definitely open to growing and a few have even seemed more than ready to make faith central in their lives. Hopefully by next month, most will be ready to embrace the Spirit at this point in their existence and receive the gifts promised by the prayer and smearing of holy oil on their foreheads by our Bishop.

So how do we Lent in this second decade of the Third Millennium? Given the growing secularization of Western societies, I would like to suggest we accept seriously the call of our recent Popes (John Paul and Benedict) and our own Bishop to embrace a “new” evangelization as both individuals and as church communities. Now at first we may be tempted to channel on our inner Franciscan, preaching the Gospel always by our actions as the little Brother from Assisi said, but rarely using words! Instead I challenge all of us to embrace the new evangelization as Pope John Paul wrote about in “Ecclesia in America”

“…everyone should keep in mind that the vital core of the new evangelization must be a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the person of Jesus Christ, that is, the preaching of his name, his teaching, his life, his promises and the Kingdom which he has gained for us by his Paschal Mystery.”
-Ecclesia in America #66

While I am not suggesting we fill corners at the River in Rancho Mirage, Victoria Gardens in Cucamonga or the Crossings in Corona with modern Catholic mendicant preachers, we could make sharing our faith a spiritual practice we take on this Lent. It could be in a form of prayer, as we lift up our family members, friends or colleagues who are “ex or former” Catholics to find faith in Christ again. It could be a form of fasting, as we give up a little personal time (lunch at work) to visit with someone we know does not practice any faith, sharing honestly and naturally how our faith in Christ impacts our lives. Finally it could be a form of almsgiving, making an extra donation of time, talent or treasure to a charity that serves the poor directly as Jesus did. Wouldn’t it be great if we become the generation where Lent came to mean we Catholics prepare for Easter by making a concerted effort to share our faith with those who have none or who have left its practice and help those who just can’t make ends meet in this or any economy? Just saying…

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