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The season of Lent for western Catholics began on Ash Wednesday, March 6; for eastern Catholics, Lent began on Clean Monday, March 4. The secular world sometimes equates the Christian Lent, the Muslim Ramadan and the Jewish Yom Kippur as the same thing, but only in different religious traditions. Certainly, there are outward similarities, but the fundamental orientation of Lent for Christians is quite different. For Christians, and especially Catholics, Lent is oriented toward the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation and Holy Eucharist).

The origin of Lent arose in the early days of Christianity, when people spent an extended period of time (one, two, three years) preparing to be baptized and received into the church at the Easter vigil (the Saturday night before Easter Sunday). The last days of this preparation period were more intense as Easter approached. This intensive period, eventually confined to 40 days in remembrance of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, was what we know today as Lent. This intensive period of preparation still happens today for those individuals enrolled in the rite of Christian initiation of adults and preparing to be received into the Catholic Church.

For those Christians already baptized, Lent is a time of renewal of their baptism. It is a time of introspection with an emphasis on the three traditional disciplines of Lent: prayer (growing in our relationship with God), fasting (removing those things that impede our spiritual growth) and almsgiving (sharing what we have with others, especially those most in need). These three “disciplines” can lead us to examine our life in light of the Gospel and to seek the Lord’s forgiveness for what we have done or have failed to do.

The sacrament of reconciliation (also called penance or confession) is the ordinary means for Catholics to ask God’s forgiveness and celebrate God’s mercy. The early church fathers called the sacrament of reconciliation a second baptism, bringing us back to the fullness of life in Christ Jesus. That is why at the Easter vigil, all those who are baptized renew their baptismal promises in conjunction with those making their baptismal promises for the first time.

In Auburn, there are many opportunities in Lent that can lead to spiritual growth. St. Mary’s Church offers compline, or night prayer , at 8 p.m. every Sunday during Lent. This ancient prayer, chanted in candlelight, can bring spiritual refreshment each week and prepare the soul for a “quiet night and a perfect end.” All are welcome!

On the Fridays of Lent, the Stations of the Cross are prayed in common at noon and 7 p.m. in a different Catholic church in Auburn. Here is the remaining schedule: March 22 at St. Alphonsus Church, March 29 at St. Francis of Assisi Church, April 5 at Holy Family Church, April 12 at St. Hyacinth Church (noon only) and a special liturgy at SS. Peter & Paul Ukrainian Catholci Church at 7 p.m. Everyone is welcome!

A unique feature among all the Christian churches in Auburn are the Ecumenical Lenten Luncheons on the Tuesdays of Lent. These luncheons provide an opportunity for members from various faith communities to come together during Lent and share their common baptism. Soup and bread are served at noon, followed by a reflection by a local clergy or lay person and concluding with a prayer at 12:45 p.m. These lunches are open to everyone.

Remaining ecumenical luncheons on Tuesdays are March 19 at St. Mary’s Church on Clark Street, March 26 at St. Luke’s United Church of Christ on Seminary Avenue, April 2 at Auburn United Methodist Church on South Street, and April 9 at Sacred Heart Church on Melrose Road.

Lent is not meant to be some sort of endurance test. It is meant to develop practices that can sustain us for the rest of our life. It is meant to be a season that draws us back to our baptismal commitment. We are meant to survive, not just on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

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The Rev. Frank E. Lioi is pastor of St. Mary’s Church and SS. Mary & Martha Parish (St. Francis Church and St. Hyacinth Church) in Auburn, and dean of the East Region (Cayuga and Tompkins counties) of the Diocese of Rochester. He can be reached at flioi@dor.org.

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