Lenten Reflections: Abstaining From Excess During A Pandemic

By Katherine Davis-Young
Published: Monday, February 22, 2021 - 11:47am

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Kaely Monahan/KJZZ
Inside All Saints Catholic Newman Center on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021.

MARK BRODIE: The season of Lent started last Wednesday. Lent is observed by Catholics and several other Christian denominations with 40 days of reflection leading up to Easter. For Catholics specifically, it's a time to focus on giving to others as well as abstaining from indulgences. For some, this means cutting out all alcohol, caffeine or sweets. In recent years, many took this as an opportunity to take a break from the internet or social media. But this past year has been so challenging, and suggesting people both give more and sacrifice comforts is a difficult task for spiritual leaders. Father Rob Clements is the director of ASU's Newman Center. KJZZ's Katherine Davis-Young will be joining us over the next several weeks and she spoke with Father Clements about how the faithful can observe Lent in a pandemic.

KATHERINE DAVIS-YOUNG: This has been such a trying year. What are you hearing from the young people you work with at ASU's Newman Center about their feelings this Lenten season? Is there pressure between being observant and the general weariness of living under [COVID-19] conditions?

ROB CLEMENTS: I think so. There's way too much time spent in front of a computer screen. I think there's a certain amount of isolation and loneliness that I'm picking up from a lot of our young people. And they really want to connect and Lent affords a good opportunity to do just that.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Yeah. What are you saying to them?

CLEMENTS: Get out from behind the screen, pray more, talk less, listen better — kind of, that, that kind of distills it all down.

DAVIS-YOUNG: And during times of distress, people often turn to God and religion to find comfort. Have you noted any increase of people turning to the church for guidance this past year or recently?

CLEMENTS: Masses and services yesterday on Ash Wednesday were out the door. I think people are all ready to, to return to God.

DAVIS-YOUNG: And Lent is observed with giving and fasting and prayer. Resources are already tight. People are already making so many sacrifices. Is it too much to expect of people right now to give up more? Is it a matter of maybe committing time and energy rather than material resources?

CLEMENTS: I think that's well said. Time and energy. You know, how we manage time is, of course, you know, that's, that's, that's key to the Christian life. You know, I've encouraged, especially our young people, something so easily as being more courteous on the road. You see somebody in need or somebody just needs to talk or to unload — give some understanding. You know, try to, try to focus on ways just to kind of make that human connection. Give of yourself as opposed necessarily to resources.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Sure. And as far as sacrificing indulgences for many of us, these little things are what's helping us keep our sanity during the pandemic. How do you ask someone to give up TV or their favorite junk food or these little comforts?

CLEMENTS: You know, at the risk of sounding cynical, I'd say this. Anybody can give up a chocolate bar or a beer. But when you think of the big guns, how about if I give up complaining? How about if I give up, you know, finding fault easily? How about if I give up my tendency to always have to get the last word? Those kinds of things. A little more focus maybe on some self-mastery.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Yeah. And before you mentioned that one important thing is keeping connected with others. I think in the last several years, a common Lenten sacrifice has been unplugging or giving up social media for 40 days. But right now, the internet is one of the only connections to family and community and school and work for so many of us during the pandemic. Are we past the point when we can look at technology as indulgent?

CLEMENTS: I would say yes, because, you know, to borrow the old expression, dance with the one you brung. If the internet's what we got to use right now, well, let's use it the best we can and in the best way.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Father Robert Clements is director of ASU's Newman Center.

BRODIE: And that conversation was hosted by KJZZ's Katherine Davis-Young.

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