Chai Brady discusses keeping Lenten promises
Steering clear of constantly searching for instant gratification and focusing on the needs of others in addition to our personal wellbeing sounds like good advice all year around, but perhaps Lent can be a time we take a closer look at making this more of an everyday reality.
It’s one of the most important liturgical seasons, everybody knows it’s a time for almsgiving, prayer and fasting, but sticking to the positive commitments we aspire to for 40 days can be tough, making them a habit that surpasses the season is a bigger ask.
In an age of instant messaging, fast food and quick fixes there doesn’t seem to be space for patience and perseverance, so the rewards of sticking to something and witnessing the hard won benefits may not seem as appealing to many.
Julie Kavanagh of the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin tells this paper that putting the time in is certainly worth it during Lent.
“I think we all instinctively know that the things we really value and take pride in are the things that have taken a little bit of effort,” she says.
“Whereas we might have gained very quick gratification on something, I don’t think they’ll be as deep as something that took a little bit more effort to do.”
Mentioning TV series like Operation Transformation, Julie says they reflect that often big changes don’t happen overnight “we do have to incrementally make a difference”.
Seeking and giving support from and to the community, parish, family and friends is a simple key to success.
“While we might be doing our individual journeys, we know other people are on similar journeys,” says Julie.
“It’s about doing that in community, but in Lent we may have to do different things because we’re all different people but we know that others are undergoing a common journey and there’s support in that.”
With families and friends in particular, supports can be found. Coming back this year is the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin’s KandLe Family Lenten Promises, which was introduced for families before the World Meeting Meeting of Families in August.
The resource encourages families to work together to undertake promises regarding fasting, almsgiving and prayer.
“The idea is that an individual or families write down what they intend to do and by virtue of writing it down you’re kind of committing to it but also hopefully the people around you that you live with will support you in that,” says Julie.
“We don’t all have to do the same thing but we can be aware and supportive of one another of what we need to do.”
It’s also something parishes take on she says, with many making a “tremendous effort every year” to put on particular events during Lent offering the community some possibilities and ideas that can be undertaken in a group.
Although fasting from sweets, chocolate and other naughty treats is one of the most popular things to do during the Lenten season, it doesn’t have to stop there.
“I suppose then some of the greatest fasting can be the fasting from gossiping. Putting on the pause button before you go to give out about someone. A lot of this is about cultivating a good habit for ourselves that is ultimately beneficial for ourselves and probably those around us as well,” Ms Kavanagh says.
Disciplines are solidified with time but once a habit develops they become easier, she says, “the more you do it the easier it becomes but that initial phase can be particularly hard but then you kind of realise that you might find what you’re fasting from beyond Lent you continue to fast from, or that you go back to something but you appreciate it in a new way or a fresh way”.
Instant gratification is so much sought after in a society that demands no wait times or lengthy processes, that it can be forgotten many virtues are strengthened by delaying gratification.
“I think it’s kind of a life skill, life can get very empty if you’re all the time consuming and that instant gratification is always on the go. In actual fact if you have to wait for something obviously you’re going to appreciate it more when you get it but you might also even be thinking more about what you’re receiving,” says Julie.
“Say social media, that whole arena, we probably would shock ourselves at the amount of times we’re checking Twitter or Facebook, if I say one day a week during Lent I’m not going to go near Facebook or Twitter I might suddenly realise the time I had been spending on it, that may change my attitude beyond Lent with regards to how I’m actually going to engage with social media.”
Leaving electronic devices in another room or out of arms reach when we’re going to bed or engaging in family activities can be tough for some, especially those who bring their work home with them, but thinking about how much reliance there is on those devices and questioning the psychological and familial effects they may be having can be reflected and acted on during the Lenten period.
A report by UK researchers last year published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that phone use during a meal led to a modest but noticeable decrease in diners’ enjoyment, after a study of 300 people. Technology at the table caused people to feel more distracted and less socially engaged.
Another report coming from the University of Pittsburgh found that too much use of social media, intended to bring individuals together, actually led to greater isolation and that it is detrimental to social bonds. The researchers surveyed a representative sample of 1,787 adults aged 19 to 32 years. They assessed both the frequency of use and time spent on 11 social media platforms.
Julie says: “Even if we were to stop and think how many times we touch our phones in an hour, even if we don’t send a text or anything, but how many times we physically put our fingers on the phone, maybe that would be a really healthy fasting for Lent that would have repercussions not just for ourselves but for family members around us as well.”
During the Lenten season there can be quite a lot of focus on what someone personally gives up, and helping others keep their Lenten promises. There’s also the idea of almsgiving, thinking outside ourselves or perhaps our immediate communities.
Jesuit academic Dr Michael O’Sullivan, Director of the Spirituality Institute for Research and Education, says Lent is a time for people to enter a reflective, contemplative, prayerful space but also to consider the good we can do outside ourselves.
“Lent is calling us into this time of self-presence, Jesus himself did it and saw the value of it and obviously then it matters to us, we want to learn from him about how to live a good life and about the steps to take to do that,” he said.
“One of the things Jesus did during his time, and not just in the 40 days in the desert that the Scriptures speak about, in the Scriptures you see him being on his own and being quiet and taking time to look at things and consider things.
“It was a lived practice he had throughout his life and it’s something that all of us can benefit from…of taking time to look at how we’re living and to pray about it and to see how to be better human beings and to be more responsive to the needs of our time – to be more caring about people.”
Ultimately though, he says, it’s important to look at what action is being taken to make this world a better place, and asking: “What is my private practice doing to bring me into solidarity with people in terms of their needs and concerns and can I link personal practice to social solidarity with others?”