Chocolate and soda, lying and swearing are a few of the most popular things people choose to give up for Lent. Rather than going along with the usual theme of striving to be a better person by limiting our luxuries and being grateful for what we have, the Campus Ministry team took on a different approach this year, preaching the true message of Lent -- to be faithful servants of God by serving others.
"Let us be servants to one another, making your kingdom come," from the opening hymn sung at the Ash Wednesday Mass on March 1st, in a nutshell sums up what Lent is really about. Rather than trying to give up a little luxury that we love, we were encouraged to give up something more precious ... our time. Something as simple as going to the store for your mother or joining a park clean-up group shows that rather than cutting out all caffeine for 40 days, you have chosen to serve others and your community.
Father Frank Schwarz celebrated the Mass, which opened with the burning of palms and the blessing of ashes. Getting covered in dirt doesn't sound very glamorous, but receiving that mark is a tradition for Christians. The tiny (or large, depending on who was distributing the ashes) smudged cross is a sign of our death, and reminds us that we are not perfect. The idea of death does make this celebration seem morbid, but Lent and Easter are actually all about death, Jesus' death, and also more importantly his resurrection.
Our own death plays a part in this because it symbolizes our rebirth to the spirit, a rebirth to better ourselves. Receiving ashes is one of the biggest events for Catholics during the Liturgical year, with hundreds of people gathering at churches to receive this mark of "new life," especially at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan, where hundreds of people waited to receive ashes.
"Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel" is one of the phrases that is said when ashes are being distributed -- a quick line that tells people to start preparing for Easter. Yet many do not seem to remain faithful servants after they receive ashes, and only go to get ashes because they want to show they are good Christians, and got their ashes.
This boastful idea that some may have matches up with what was said in the gospel that was chosen for the Mass (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18). The message is: Rather than try to be a loud and proud Christian who publicly announces and displays devotion to God, keep your love for God to yourself, in private prayer and fasting, and for that you shall be rewarded.
After the gospel reading, Tanyelle Broschart ‘07 gave a Lenten reflection, which focused on an organization that we could make a part of our Lenten service this year called Touching Tiny Lives. This program, which is located in Lesotho, Africa, cares for children who have been affected by HIV/AIDS. It was started by Ken Storen in 1999, who was visiting Lesotho while in the Peace Corps and was appalled by the havoc the HIV/AIDS virus had brought upon the people of Lesotho, especially the children. He stayed in Lesotho and opened his home to children who had been orphaned by the disease, and cared for them as his own. This past winter, Touching Tiny Lives was housing about 30 young children, providing them with the care and love they deserve, and as much food, clothing, and treatment that their funds can allow.
This is where the Prep Community comes in. We have proven time and time again that we care for our fellow human beings -- when we donated to the Tsunami Relief Funds, Hurricane Katrina Relief, Thanksgiving Food Drives, and countless other organizations and charities throughout the years. Once again we were asked for help to provide these children with a better chance at life. Overall, the Prep Community raised more than $8,000 for this fund, which will help to provide food, clothing and supplies for these children, as the Touching Tiny Lives Program works on building its second safe house to shelter more children.
Other opportunities for Lenten Service were available if the heart was willing but the wallet wasn’t. The Homelessness Awareness Sleep Out was established to give students an opportunity to see what it is like to be out on the streets and answer the big question, "Why have we allowed others to live like this?"
Urban Challenge, which took place over Easter beak, was a different kind of Spring Break for 12 students and two faculty members. Rather than hitting the tropics for a golden tan, seniors Diana Fernandes, Danny Lynch, Danielle Pascuma, and Nicole Steakin, juniors Sal Asaro, Shadiyah Evans, Vanessa Galeano, Christine Medina, Tim Moore, Jackie Polito, and Salazar Santiago, and sophomore Jennifer Fazzolari traveled under the river and through the tunnel to Camden, New Jersey, to work in various social agencies.
And for some people whose dedication to others won’t end with their last final, the Katrina Relief Clean-Up in early July will take 12 students and four faculty and staff members to Kiln, Mississippi, through the organization Young People In Action.
Thinking of others before ourselves is the true meaning of Lent, as we follow in Christ’s footsteps. “We rise again from ashes, from the good we failed to do. We rise again from ashes, to create ourselves anew. If all our world is ashes, then must our lives be true. An offering of ashes, an offering to you.”
The blackened foreheads of Christians worldwide may have washed away after March 1st, but the marked hearts of Prep students carry on.