(We talked to four friars about how they’re making Lent understandable and accessible to younger Catholics. Here are excerpts from our conversations.)
COMPILED BY TONI CASHNELLI
(Roger is doing his CTU ministry practicum at the Newman Center of the University of Illinois at Chicago.)
I was talking to a student at the Newman Center this week and I said, “Jeff, how’s your Lent going?” He said, “Oh, it’s fine.” I said, “Oh, OK.”
I think he initiated the question: “Well, I know we’re supposed to fast; is that right?” I said, “Why do you say that?” He said, “Well, you’re supposed to fast from meat on Fridays and give something up.” It’s typical, even when I taught at Roger Bacon, that’s the extent of [what people know about] Lent: You don’t eat meat on Fridays and you give something up, something that is challenging. Even my friends who are not Catholic do the same thing. This is not isolated to the younger generation. If we polled a lot of Catholics, that would be the extent of Lent for them.
I pulled from the readings of that day. “Isaiah is telling people, you need to change doing all things bad. ‘Come now, let us set things right.’” I said it again, “Come now, let us set things right.” Lent is the great invitation. We’re called to better ourselves and the world around us.
One of the questions Jeff asked was, “Why is there the need to fast?” I told him fasting should never be the end; it should be the means. Fasting itself is not bad but it doesn’t have the full potential until you see the ends it is there to accomplish. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving pull us outside ourselves to connect with others to re-enter into a relationship with God and each other.
I told Jeff that I remember one of my students [at Roger Bacon] talking about giving up meat for Lent. He would go with his friends to Skyline and order french fries. “Was it difficult?” I asked. It should be. We are called to challenge ourselves. These practices call us to think of others. The constant challenge Lent can provide is good.
(Richard is assisting at Holy Family Parish in Galveston. He’s been involved in campus ministry at UIC and the annual mission trip to Jamaica.)
I don’t think there’s a ready, short answer, but students at UIC would be my best example of young people I’ve interacted with. They seemed to respond well to Lent, they took it a step deeper, spending a little more time in adoration, a little more attendance at Sunday Mass. My first go-round as a priest with Lent it was highlighted in Mass, vis-à-vis the prayers during the Mass. The Opening Prayer, the Prayer over the Gifts, talks about healing, healing, healing. That’s the lens I’m looking through.
There’s a retreat, book, lectures, all with that concept. That’s what I’m pushing these days and I think it could plug into where they are because young people always seem in need of some kind of remedy – looking for the next thing to get them along, and with short attention spans, something bite-size to get them a little deeper, ‘cause they don’t have time for it. I’ve tried to preach on it, highlight it at daily Mass and Sunday Mass. I bet I could wear the theme out by Easter.
It’s the sense of Lent as being a time of healing. You could keep it on the penitential theme we’ve been running on for decades and decades, “Suffer a little bit for Jesus.” I’m not discounting that. But as an alternative for young people, this [healing] theme has potential.
Everybody I’ve been preaching to is responding to this sort of thing. It’s positive, it seems there could be joy in it. It’s more of a way to be lifted up and rejuvenated than dunked down to drudge through to the end. I think people would rather be rejuvenated than dunked down.
This message of healing, I think it’s in line with what Pope Francis is talking about: “Don’t look like a sourpuss.” If Lent is to have some traction these days let’s try something different and give it a more positive, rejuvenating spin.
Preach grace, not duty, emphasize that all you have to do as a human is to be open to God’s grace. Let the invitation be that God is healing, God is merciful, all you’ve got to do is be open.
(Colin spent his STiP year in Jamaica and helps organize the annual student mission trip to Jamaica for University of Illinois at Chicago students.)
Just waiting for Lent to come around and then trying to tell people how important it is can work, but it’s not the most effective way of making it relevant. There’s a need to have something going on all through the liturgical year. The students [who’ve gone to Jamaica] seem pretty engaged by choice in religious life by participating in church and going on mission trips. They’re certainly much farther in their faith journey than I was at their age.
Students who just came back from Jamaica very much referenced it in terms of how much of an impact that’s had in their lives and how they’re drawing upon that for this Lenten season [saying], “I can make a small sacrifice” by giving up certain foods, “but it’s not anything like the folks in Jamaica experienced.” They realize they’re abstaining from something but it’s a little act versus feeling the oppression of hunger. Had they not gone to Jamaica they would not have fully appreciated that. Some of these students went two or three years ago, so it’s an event that has stayed with them.
We’re talking about 18- to 26-year-olds. With most of the guys, one of the very common themes for them for Lent was striving for a holier life. [They were] very action-oriented: How do I decrease my vices while increasing my virtues?
Most of the ladies talked about relationships. “Lent gives me a life made relevant by making time evaluating my relationship with Jesus and other people in my life.” They ask themselves, what are the relationships that are essentially good for me and not good for me? All of them talked about how Lent is a chance to fast from something or give up something to focus on what’s more important.
As a future minister it’s helping me realize one of the ways of making Lent relevant to young adults is that it doesn’t have to be sugar-coated. There’s the sense that the Lenten journey is about fasting or giving up; there is some sense of sacrifice. We try to unite that with Jesus’ sacrificing.
For me, one of the things I’m really looking at is my relationship with other people and God and asking, where is that? How am I maintaining those relationships, how am I growing those in ways that are good for all of us? Lent is an intentional time to look at one of the greatest love stories ever told, the tremendous love God has for us, that self-sacrificing love. How do I embody that with people I’ve met in Jamaica and other places? It gives us a very specific time to start something new or have that intentional beginning.
(Al is pastor of St. Monica-St. George Parish Newman Center at the University of Cincinnati.)
Surprisingly, Ash Wednesday is probably the most sacred and well-attended church service of the year for college students. We can hardly fit them all in church. There’s something in their growing up that [says] on Ash Wednesday you go to church. It’s almost like, you’ve got to do this. I don’t quite understand what it is.
I think deep down every person young or old knows they’re far from perfect and there’s always a need to begin again and acknowledge this imperfection. I think any student that’s even mildly active in their faith feels that need to give something up during Lent.
Among young people today, especially among those more active in their Catholic faith, they display more of that zeal than I see in the older Catholics. Creatively, one of the things we do [at the Newman Center] is a blog. That is mostly written by fellow students and draws the attention of a lot of students. This Lent they asked if the staff would do the blog. I wrote one; other team members agreed. It’s gonna conclude with Bishop Joe Binzer doing the blog for Easter. Students on our spirituality team were asking for our more seasoned people to add their voices.
Young people today are looking for identifying marks of “what makes me a Catholic”. The fact that 25 students gather on campus every Tuesday to pray the Rosary clearly is a Catholic thing to do. There’s a solidarity of giving up meat on Fridays; they get it. Different from me, things like the blog attract them. There’s a Facebook page that keeps reminders of Lent, daily posting of [Operation] Rice Bowl reflections that two of our students are doing.
The students are organizing Stations of the Cross on Fridays. We don’t find many in the parish who come, but students who live in the neighborhood will come. Students are anxious to get that Lent Little Black Book from Saginaw and have taken a number of Lent in Your Pocket booklets from our province. They do look for some kind of daily meditation or task during Lent.
There’s still that practice of abstaining, sacrificing, some kind of penance. I don’t think any of us fully understand why we’re doing it. It’s hard to wrap our minds around how my suffering a little bit of whatever makes a difference. Maybe we do know somehow that joining my suffering to Christ, as pious and trite as that might sound, that there is something to that.
Spring training has started, giving some hope that the treacherousLast year’s Opening Day parade, “the most gorgeous day possible.” winter weather we have been experiencing might someday be over!ﾠ Opening Day here in Cincinnati is April 6, and that’s a big deal in this city.ﾠ We are making arrangements again for any friar who wishes to walk or ride in this year’s Cincinnati Reds’ Opening Day Parade.ﾠ Last year we had the most gorgeous day possible, and a good number of friars marched through downtown Cincinnati in our habits, waving and carrying a banner which read, “Franciscan Friars, connected to our community since 1844.”ﾠ We marched behind the Roger Bacon High School band and in front of the kids from St. Francis Seraph Grade School.ﾠ It was great fun, and people seemed both surprised and pleased to see us.ﾠ Like our presence at Northgate Mall and the Moerlein Brewery this past Advent, we considered this an act of “holy newness,” a way of sharing our joy and making our Franciscan charism a bit more visible.ﾠ I just wanted to remind you of our Chapter commitment “that the friars would discern and implement at least one new, fresh way of making the Gospel life present in its current situation.ﾠ This could be one event, or an ongoing initiative.”ﾠ It’s not too late.ﾠ What new (even crazy!) idea can you and your community come up with to let others know that we are alive and well and happy to be friars. Maybe some other similarly crazy folks might want to share the joy of the Gospel life!
Valens in 2008 with some of his photos from an exhibit.
Srs. Anna Marie Covely, Pia Malaborbor and Ann Bartko
BY SCOTT OBRECHT, OFM
Thirty-one teams competed in the first Friars Tournament in the “New” Friars Club during the long weekend of Feb. 26-March 1. Boys and girls grades 2-6 played hard and fast, as they all had their sights on the five division trophies that awaited the winners on Sunday afternoon. Friars had 19 teams, with 12 non-Friars teams competing.
During the final game with the 2nd / 3rd grade girls, the competition was fierce. Girls hit the floor hard for loose balls and gave it everything they had, trying to win. The referees worked had to ensure that the competition was fair with good sportsmanship.
Playing four, six-minute periods, the Friars girls were ahead with just under four minutes to go. The game was back and forth with the ball changing hands multiple times. Two minutes left saw a basket and a free throw clinch it for the visiting team. The final score: Home 6 / Visitors 9.
“Even through all the snow and cold it was a warm and comforting feeling to see all the smiling faces running from the gym to the concession stand to the restrooms and back in to the gym,” said Annie Timmons, Friars Club Executive Director. “All the chatter and congestion in the lobby was a welcome distraction after having Friars Club be without a home for so long. If the smiles and laughter were any indication of success, I think we nailed it!”
Overall, Friars teams won three of the five division championships. Next on the docket: Girls’ volleyball continues and, in April and May, two sessions of Junior Dribblers – Kindergarten / 1st Grade and 2nd grade. The teams will practice Monday and Wednesday nights with games on Saturday mornings.
A era in Friars basketball begins.
Right, Scott Obrecht and Annie Timmons.
Below, anxious onlookers and players keep their eyes on the ball.
Below, girls with their coach; right, trophies for the victors.
2014 • Third Quarter
2014 • Fourth Quarter
2015 • First Quarter
2015 • Second Quarter
2015 • Third Quarter
2015 • Fourth Quarter
2016 • First Quarter