I’ve always had somewhat of a complex relationship with my religion. Raised in a Catholic household, faith was always a big part of my life. As a child, I sometimes thought of our religious practices as a nuisance. My favorite part of Sunday mornings was the trip to the donut shop near church after 9 a.m. mass. Trips to my grandmother’s home — as many Mexican Catholics are familiar with — led to walls full of crucifixes and images of the Virgin of Guadalupe surrounding me. I would help light my grandmother’s prayer candles and receive the subtle Catholic guilt that many of us know well. But the tradition that I never truly understood growing up was Lent.
When I was young, I viewed Ash Wednesday as a chore. Having to attend mass after school, not eat meat, and give up sweets until Easter was not very exciting for an 8-year-old me. As I got older, my relationship with the day — and Catholicism in general — became more complex. While my relationship with God strengthened as I experienced more difficulties in my life, I also found myself questioning the church. To this day, I still haven’t figured it all out. Though I still have my problems with the Catholic church, my personal faith (whatever that currently includes) is still very important to me.
Over the past year, with all the struggles that have come with this pandemic, I’ve been evaluating my spirituality even more. This doesn’t mean just contemplating my relationship with God, but my relationship with the entire universe. I’ve done a lot of introspection, examining myself and my life. In the past year, I’ve had to deal with grief more than once, anger over the state of our society, and treatment of my struggling mental health. This is never an easy process. I’ve often felt overwhelmed trying to juggle it all. Between schoolwork, taking care of my family, and trying to take care of myself, I often struggle to slow down and take a moment to breathe.
As we approach the Lenten season, I have begun to look forward to it more than ever before. Lent is a period of 40 days (not including Sundays) in which Christians prepare for Easter. It is meant to imitate the 40 days and nights that Jesus spent fasting in the desert before beginning his public ministry. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this period — the placing of ashes on our foreheads symbolizing mortality and repentance. It is a day of fasting and prayer for Catholics and also signifies the beginning of a period of self-denial. Many people choose to give up some sort of material thing during lent, including fast food, sweets, or video games. Catholics also often abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent. These acts are meant to temporarily simplify our lives in an effort to focus on our spiritual selves
Yes, we have all already sacrificed a lot over the past year, there is no denying that. In fact, when quarantine began in the middle of the Lenten season last year, Pope Francis told Catholics around the world that some of these practices could be relaxed, given the difficult circumstances. For me, I will try to continue following them this year. Focusing on these small but meaningful acts will help me ground myself and focus on my personal spirituality. I definitely need a moment to simplify my life and contemplate how I live my life. Giving up my favorite podcasts and spending that time considering my relationship with God and the universe instead will give me an opportunity to think about what’s important to me. Everyone — no matter their religion — should take time for self-reflection.
For the first time, I can truly feel the importance of the Lenten Season. I’ve slowly been figuring out how I want Catholicism to fit into my life, into the complexity of my spirituality, and the solemn practice of Lent finally feels right. Do I have this all figured out yet? No. When there is so much constant change in your life, it’s hard to analyze your spirituality and work on how to best access it. It’s a long, difficult, uncomfortable process. But as I begin to find answers to my questions, I find that it is all worth it. I have been so disconnected from my spirituality while trying to deal with the difficult world around me. This year, Lent will be my time to finally reconnect with myself.