It would be wrong to say I have not put a foot wrong during my year with the Animate team – after all, on our first Mission Week together in Wales I managed to break my ankle, a mishap that earned me the nickname ‘Limpy’. But every week, even with an attractive blue plaster cast on, I have enjoyed the chance to walk with and guide other young people as they learn more about their faith and about themselves, and at the same time I have grown too.
Community prayer, for instance, is something I never thought I would be able to enjoy or embrace but I feel, for the first time, that I really can communicate with God, and similarly this year I really have been able to approach Lent differently.
The key focus on Lent for me was always ‘to give something up’. The Catholic faith of my family is something I grew up taking for granted and while I knew that Lent was a special time, as with many cradle Catholics, I had never really given much thought to it. I just did it – giving up crisps, cake and chocolate and even (during one particularly testing Lent) McDonald’s. This Lent, however, has been rather different, for in addition to sacrificing my treats, I have embarked on a journey of discovery, developing my knowledge of what Lent really means to me as a Catholic.
In February we ran a series of day retreats for Year 8 pupils from Saints Peter and Paul Catholic College in Widnes. We focused on the three pillars of Lent: Almsgiving, Fasting and Prayer. Over the course of the day we wanted the pupils to come to a realisation that almsgiving (‘Do I really have to give someone my arm?’ is an actual question we get asked!) does not have to be a solemn activity, but can be something which is small but done with great love.
Likewise, fasting does not have to be the hardest thing in the world; it is possible. And prayer does not mean saying the Our Father or Hail Mary 20 times a day, but may mean spending just five minutes thinking about the things which we are thankful for or sorry about and offering these things to God.
As a consequence, I have actually quite enjoyed Lent. Now, if you had told me as a child (or even last year) that this was possible – a time when we have to go without our treats and spend half our days on our knees – I would not have believed it. But this Lent has been different. It has felt like it has had a purpose and I have understood more what it is all about. As a community we have done small things – Stations of the Cross for our morning prayer, giving up the change from our supermarket trips, open night prayer and even extra Masses during the week – but it is these small things which have helped me come to realise the importance of Lent.
I have tried to follow Jesus’s teaching that ‘When you fast, don’t pull a long face ... when you go without food, wash your face and comb your hair’. I do always comb my hair, but I have not moaned (as much) about going without my favourite foods because I have come to know Jesus just that little bit better. I am still getting to know Him, but this Lent I feel I have moved a small step closer. Now, where are those chocolate biscuits?!