A journey of sacrifice

Lent season gives Catholics a chance to reconnect with God

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Forty days and 40 nights without sweets? Is it possible?

Many Christians observing the Lent season endure giving up something in their lives for God for 40 days.

For Cristina Vicinelli, that's sweets.

"I have a major sweet addiction," she admitted.

Other people give up eating meat, smoking tobacco or cursing as a way to show a commitment to God and the Christian faith.

But as Father George Schroeder of the Holy Name Catholic Church explained, the Lent season and its history is much more than giving up a habit. It involves a sophisticated procedure to affirm a connection to God.

Lent began in Rome around A.D. 400, after Constantine converted Rome to Christianity. Up until he did that, it was dangerous business being a Christian, Schroeder said.

"And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites [are]: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." Matthew 6: 5-6 The New Testament

All the practices of Christianity were done underground because most people wouldn't dare publicly admit their connection to the faith or stop practicing other religious rituals because it could have meant death for them and their family.

When Constantine embraced Christianity in Rome, it brought the practices to the surface.

"Everything that was going on quietly began taking a public form," Schroeder said.

But that didn't happen without some sanctimonious snares.

Because many Christians would publicly deny being a Christian and participate in other religious ceremonies, because they feared death, they defied the faith and fell out of the fold. Lent was meant to bring them back.

"It became kind of a systematic way a ritual way of accepting people back," Schroeder said.

Today, Lent still serves that purpose welcoming people back into the faith. But it also serves to reaffirm faith for the faithful and to secure a person's connection with God, Schroeder said.

The core of the tradition is allowing time for penitence and instruction through prayer, fasting and giving of alms.

It begins on Ash Wednesday. The ceremony on that day traditionally is driven by Scripture providing instruction on how to communicate with God Matthew 6:1-6 and Matthew 6:16-18. It ends with ash rubbed on the forehead, indicating the person's journey to reaffirm their connection to God. The ash comes from a Hebrew tradition that calls for a person to show they are repenting by sitting in ashes.

Ash Wednesday also marks the beginning of a 40-day fast, as well as giving something up for God and avoiding eating fleshy meat on Fridays. These 40-day sacrifices are meant to bring a person closer to God on many different levels, Schroeder said.

First, it shows a commitment to the faith. Feeling hungry, for example, but maintaining the fast shows that you are giving something up for the faith.

"I may feel better because I let go of something to be closer to someone else," Schroeder said.

But it also is an opportunity to step out of the normal rituals of life to gain a different perspective.

"There is a point when you move through the hunger and you think about other hungry people in the world," Schroeder said.

By observing the 40 days of fasting, Christians also participate in a spiritual connection with Jesus Christ. The 40 days symbolizes Jesus' withdrawal into the wilderness for 40 days before returning to inevitably be crucified.

"It's entering into the death and resurrection of Jesus," Schroeder said. "It's a reminder of faith and what Jesus did out of love for us."

Lent ends on April 14, the day after Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified some 2000 years ago.

The following Sunday is Easter, which traditionally is observed with a feast to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and the ending of fasting. Thus, ending a spiritual journey for Christians participating in the season of Lent.

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206

or e-mail dcrowl@steamboatpilot.com

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