In preparation for Lent I long considered what should be my 40-day sacrifice, reflected on how to better myself and considered how I could strengthen my relationship with God. But after all my planning I forgot one crucial element: I now must remember to fast and abstain from meat, rather than allowing the dining hall to do it for me.
Notre Dame made living the faith easy, especially during Lent. Mass was available every few hours somewhere on campus. You could go to confessions in your slippers. Prayer seemed only natural on a campus studded with religious statues and paintings. And, during Lent, there was no meat in the dining hall on the days when we were encouraged to abstain.
People would bicker in the Observer on what this practice said about our inclusivity, and gentlemen would groan as they walked in to find cheesy-vegetable renditions in all of their favorite meat stations, but beyond that the practice was hardly strenuous.
Now during my first “real world” Lent, I’m suddenly daunted by the idea of having to remember on my own, a larger metaphor, I realize, for taking control of my own faith rather than letting it come easily.
As I’ve slipped into the real world and settled a job, a routine, an apartment, faith has been an unexpected challenge. It began while looking for a new parish. I sampled the many, many options the South Bend area has to offer and found some too old, too young, too political, until, in a Goldilocks-like sentiment, found one that was just right.
But attending weekly Mass became less joyful and more dutiful as the year went on, and I found myself feeling like I was going through the motions rather than fully immersing myself in the celebration of the Eucharist. I’ve since realized that at Notre Dame we learned to pray as a community of believers, and we were in a community of people we knew and lived with and loved, so embodying the catholic, or universal, part of our faith was easy. Removed from that intimate community, establishing a new catholic, a new sense of self within a much larger church has proved a trying task.
Daily prayer, even such a personal event, has become more difficult — with chores to do, errands to run and thoughts of work swirling incessantly; it’s far too easy to lie down at night and let sleep come rather than using the quiet darkness to enter into conversation with God. It requires more patience, more endurance and more focus to block out the distractions than I remember needing as a student.
With these difficulties has come beautiful discovery: faith should be an active, daily profession rather than a comfortable state. We should have to put effort into our prayers, if we don’t, we aren’t looking deeply enough into ourselves, nor are we adequately giving thanks to God. We should have to assess our standing within the Church. We should be uncomfortable about being accepted, because it will force us to be more accepting of others. And we should struggle to remember to give up meat because it prompts us to remember Jesus’ sacrifices for us.
That’s part of Lent. We don’t do it because it comes naturally or because it is simple, but because it makes us uncomfortable. It makes us think. And it makes us dig deeper, all which bring us closer to God.
Tara Hunt is an associate editor of this magazine. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.