From brainstorming non-meat options to fill Friday dining-hall menus to preparing for record attendance at Mass on Ash Wednesday, Catholic universities and campus ministries are gearing up for Lent.
“On Ash Wednesday we have Masses morning through night and the church is standing-room only,” said Fr. Jack Treacy, S.J., director of campus ministry at Santa Clara University.
Multiple campus ministry officials at various schools estimated that around 30% to 40% of their student body participates in the campus activities — from Mass to retreats — offered during Lent. Many schools also have ecumenical Masses without communion to encourage Catholic and non-Catholic attendance.
“The three disciplines of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving, are not limited to any particular faith,” said the Rev. James B. King, C.S.C., director of campus ministry at the University of Notre Dame.
Schools are distributing Lenten prayer books, sponsoring community service-based immersion trips and planning weekly Stations of the Cross prayer services.
The support network of a Catholic institution can help students who give something up or take something on for Lent.
Here are three recommendations from students and administrators at Catholic schools nationwide on how to have a successful Lenten season.
• Take a technology break
Two schools, Marquette University and Loyola University Chicago, are working on sponsoring technology fasts.
Lisa Reiter, director of campus ministry at Loyola, said she hopes students will reflect on whether their time-consuming use of the Internet is purposeful.
“It’s not uncommon to walk across campus these days and see people on their phones,” Reiter said. “There’s a difference between trying to meet up with friends and being distracted and not present with those around us.”
Jessica Bazan, a junior and liturgy assistant at Marquette University, admitted to being hooked to her phone while walking between classes.
“I’m going to start out putting my phone away for three to four hours a day and not have it out while walking to class,” Bazan said. “I want to be more present.”
• Pile on prayer time
Increasing prayer is a big focus of many universities’ Lenten programs. Bazan said she uses prayer as a way to reflect on her 40-day sacrifice.
“Remembering why you’re giving something up is the most important part of Lent,” Bazan said.
Other students, such as Fairfield University senior Salvatore Aspromonte, prioritized prayer as a way to balance their busy college schedules.
“It has been difficult setting aside time to do that,” said Aspromonte, a Eucharistic minister leader. “Lent for me is a time to reflect on how I’ve been living my life. I like to think I’m a good person but, like every person, I make mistakes. Lent is a designated time to recommit myself to being a good person.”
Treacy said that more prayer and reflection would be his “one wish” for students during Lent.
“One of the gifts of this season is that it can call people to be more intentioned about prayer each day,” Treacy said.
• Seek out words of wisdom
Sticking with the 40-day regimen — whether it be tackling a community-service project or spending more time at the gym — can be tough, but Lent veterans have some advice.
“Keep it doable,” King said. “Don’t overreach like people do with their New Year’s resolutions.”
Last year, Aspromonte gave up being late. Now punctuality is a routine, he said.
“It’s going to be really hard sometimes but we’re doing this for God and God doesn’t really ask that much of us,” Aspromonte said.
Fr. C. Hightower, S.J., director of university ministry at Gonzaga University, said students often focus on the personal benefit of a Lenten sacrifice, but should be more mindful of how it relates to their relationship with God.
“Focus on the intention of what you’re doing,” Hightower said. “Are you looking to better yourself or to focus on the pain and sacrifice of Christ’s life?”
Adam Thies, a senior at Gonzaga, said commitment is the key.
“Stay focused. Forty days isn’t that long, but you have to want to do it,” Thies said.
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