Going Through the Motions

By Marlene Schultz

single genuflection

When I was converting to Catholicism, I always thought that genuflecting was like the secret brofist/ handshake that Catholics shared apart from the rest of society. People walk, talk, lie down, sit, and stand every day, but genuflecting – the act of dropping to one knee – was an inscrutable art form to me. I was vaguely aware that this motion was popularized by Tim Tebow, a religious football player, and dubbed “Tebowing,” but I mostly knew about it from my mother, a lapsed cradle Catholic. Occasionally I would attend a Mass for snits and giggles, and I was fascinated by how my mother quickly kneeled and crossed herself. I would try imitating my mother’s motions, only to wobble over like a fainting goat. Forget making the Sign of the Cross while genuflecting – I was blessed when I didn’t face-plant behind a senior citizen. After numerous practice sessions in front of a mirror, I finally became an expert at genuflecting… only for my mother to inform me that I was kneeling on the wrong knee. I scoured YouTube for tutorials on genuflecting, but I couldn’t find any that tediously demonstrated the mechanics for an uncoordinated penguin like me to understand.

But I had unknowingly been avoiding the true mystery – why did Catholics genuflect in the first place? It couldn’t just be some quaint meaningless custom that no one had a reason for. I was confused by how the parishioners at some churches genuflected, but other churches did not. Even my mother wasn’t sure why she genuflected. She was raised Catholic, but no one had ever told her why she was supposed to kneel at church. It was just something you were supposed to do, like shaking hands with strangers, or saying “bless you” after a sneeze. It was appropriate and polite, but perhaps it wasn’t necessary. That was probably why some Catholics had stopped genuflecting at many churches; there didn’t seem to be any tangible reason for the custom.

That feeling doesn’t avoid me. Even though I am now a baby Catholic firmly wrapped in the embraces of Holy Mother Church, sometimes I kneel only out of habit. I can pull out of genuflecting faster than a hyperactive toddler, and I am proud of the bruises on my knees after ten minutes of kneeling on a hard marble floor. I feel the numbness slipping into my mind, the forgetfulness. I have to keep asking myself – why do I genuflect? Do I keep the reason in my heart every time I bend my knee? Or will I let it become an instinctive habit, ready to be lost in my human frailty. Every time I lower myself to the ground, I am trying to show an act of reverence. But who is that reverence intended for? I could only uncover the answer by going to Mass.

Even to this day, I constantly have to renew the true devotion behind genuflection. Last Sunday marked the beginning of Passiontide, the final two weeks of Lent. Every moment of the Church’s liturgical calendar is sweeping dramatically towards the Cross and the Resurrection, but that Sunday was a chance to take a deep breath. I lingered after Mass in the church, and I slowly started to take another look around me. The electric overhead lights and candelabras were turned off, so you could better see the sunlight gently raining through the stained glass windows. It illuminated the incense spread like a cloudy sea across the pews of my church. And there it was – deep in the sanctuary at the front of the church, behind the communion rail, up a threefold of steps, and resting upon the marble high altar – the reason! I could breathe anew. How could I have been so distracted?

A sanctuary lamp shone behind a small golden box. The box is like a house with doors, a roof, and small twisting columns on each side. But the little house, the Tabernacle, is not what we genuflect to. Every home has an occupant, someone living and waiting for you to acknowledge them when you enter into their home. Inside the Tabernacle, like in the ancient days of Judea and the time of Moses, is housed the Holy of Holies – the Divine Presence. Don’t look at me weirdly, but yes – the Tabernacle houses the Real Presence of Christ, body and soul, under the appearance of bread. The Eucharist is consecrated at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and even when the Mass isn’t being said, the Presence of the Lord is still there for us. The sanctuary lamp is always on, and he is beaming out from the veiled Tabernacle, a lighthouse in the dark. This isn’t a symbol. I wouldn’t kneel because of a symbol.

genuflection 2Like knights swearing fealty to their lord, we pay homage to our King. We genuflect because it is rather impractical to
throw ourselves prostrate on the floor every time we pass in front of our Sovereign Lord, Creator, and Master of the Universe. The traffic jams in church would be indescribable. So we kneel.* As Moses cast his sandals off before
the Divine Presence in the Burning Bush, external signs of reverence must align with our internal devotions. But we must never lose sight of the love that spurs us into action, even to something as simple as genuflecting! I let myself get so obsessed with the motions of an action, that I lose sight of the One whom I intended it for. He always knows how to sweep me off my feet and onto my knees, but I know how quickly I want to forget his gentle reminders. We must never forget whose house we are in.

*Unless you’re an Eastern Catholic and don’t do that genuflecting thang. In that case, thou shalt bow. And stand. And stay standing. Sitting is for the weak.

Marlene is a chicken in disguiseMarlene Schultz is a sophomore at Evergreen Valley College with a vague intention of majoring in Art. She doesn’t believe in extracurricular activity, but Marlene loves singing (badly) Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony in her church’s choir, hugging her pet chickens, drinking gallons of English black tea, and suffering. Do not speak of liturgical dance to Marlene, or she will taunt you a second time.

God, What Do You Want Me to Do?

By Maleny Quiroz

Sometimes I just don’t know what to do. I want to do God’s will, but what is that? Yes, there are many Bible passages that mention parts of God’s will for us, such as being grateful at all times and being sanctified (1 Thessalonians 5:18, 1 Thessalonians 4:3), but is God’s will limited to that? I want to know everything about God’s will, but I love surprises, and at the same time I’m ridiculously impatient… oxymoron much? This comes to mind in multiple occasions: Is he the one God wants for me? Is that the school where God wants me to go? What do I do after I graduate from college? Decisions, decisions. Which reminds me of something a friend said yesterday: “Don’t you just wish God would leave post-it notes on walls with instructions of what to do?” While that would solve tons of problems, heartaches, and time of stress, it would get rid of all the beautiful mystery that is God and the life He gives us. But how can I know if I’m doing, or following, what God wants for me? Truth is, I can never know for sure, or as Thomas Merton says more eloquently:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

-Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

Like Merton, I can’t face my perils alone. Shoot, who am I kidding? In all honesty, I can’t do anything alone at all, but it gives me strength to know that even Jesus said it himself:

I can’t do anything on my own… I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me. (John 5:30)

So in seeking the will of the one who sent me, I end up curled up in a ball because I still don’t know what to do… but God does, and that’s all that matters.

Dios, ¿qué quieres que haga?

Por Maleny Quiroz

A veces simplemente no sé qué hacer. Quiero hacer la voluntad de Dios, pero ¿qué es eso? Sí, hay muchos pasajes de la Biblia que hablan sobre partes de la voluntad de Dios para nosotros, como el ser agradecido en todo momento y ser santificados (1 Tesalonicenses 5:18, 1 Tesalonicenses 4: 3), pero ¿la voluntad de Dios está limitada a eso? Quiero saber todo acerca de la voluntad de Dios, pero me encantan las sorpresas, y al mismo tiempo soy ridículamente impaciente… medio contradictorio no? Esto viene a la mente en múltiples ocasiones: ¿Es él el que Dios quiere para mí? ¿Esa es la escuela a donde Dios quiere que vaya? ¿Qué hago después de graduarme de la universidad? Decisiones, decisiones. Lo cual me recuerda algo que una amiga dijo ayer: “¿No te gustaría que Dios dejara notas en las paredes con instrucciones de qué hacer?” Mientras que eso resolvería un montón de problemas, angustias, y tiempos de estrés, se desharía de todo lo bello del misterio que son Dios y la vida que Él nos da. Pero, ¿cómo puedo saber si estoy haciendo, o siguiendo, lo que Dios quiere para mí? La verdad es que nunca podré saber con seguridad, o como Thomas Merton diría más elocuentemente:

Mi Dios y Señor, no tengo ni idea de a dónde voy. No veo el camino delante de mí. No puedo saber con certeza dónde terminará. Tampoco me conozco realmente a mí mismo, y el hecho de que creo que estoy siguiendo tu voluntad no quiere decir que en realidad la estoy haciendo. Pero creo que el deseo de complacerte en realidad te complace. Y espero tener ese deseo en todo lo que esté haciendo. Espero que nunca vaya a hacer nada aparte de ese deseo. Y sé que si lo hago esto va a guiarme por el camino correcto, aunque yo no sepa nada al respecto. Entonces, confiaré siempre en ti aunque pueda parecer que me pierda y en la sombra de la muerte. No temeré, porque tú estás siempre conmigo, y no me dejaras enfrentar mis peligros solo.

-Thomas Merton, Pensamientos en soledad

Al igual que Merton, no puedo enfrentar a mis peligros sola. Chin, a quién estoy tratando de engañar? Con toda honestidad, no puedo hacer nada sola en lo absoluto, pero me da fuerza saber que incluso Jesús mismo lo dijo:

Yo no puedo hacer nada por mi cuenta… no busco mi voluntad, sino la voluntad del que me envió. (Juan 5:30)

Así que en la búsqueda de la voluntad del que me envió, termino acurrucada en forma de pelota porque todavía no sé qué hacer… pero Dios sí, y eso es todo lo que importa.

Navigating Privilege

By Jenni Sigl

PrivPersonal privilege is something that I had not formally acknowledged or really spent much time thinking about for most of my life. It is entirely possible that many people, myself included up until recently, are not even exactly sure what defining and navigating personal privilege entails. So, bear with me as I attempt to break it down and explain what it means in the context of my life.

I think it best to start at the beginning with a simple definition. The dictionary defines privilege as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” Though fairly simplistic, this is a good starting point. Privilege, or in most cases privileges, are certain rights or advantages that we inherently acquire. We did not earn them, but they have been given to us. Privilege can be based on your skin color, sex, geographic location, socioeconomic standing, sexual orientation, or any other factor that is a part of who you are.

Various personal privileges offer different advantages. For example, in today’s world, a man inherently has more personal privilege than a woman, a Caucasian more than a person of color, and so on.

With that said, there are a few things that are extremely important to understand about personal privilege. First, no, your personal privilege is not your fault. Second, it is well understood that you did not choose the personal privilege that is inherently a part of who you are. Third, you should not feel guilty or be ashamed of it because you did not choose it. And finally, yes, it is extremely important to acknowledge your personal privilege and meaningfully decided what it means in the context of your life.

A big part of navigating personal privilege is recognizing and acknowledging that privilege for what it is. One common example is that for many of us who grew up in the United States, our personal privilege has allowed us access to free primary and secondary education, which although we did not choose to have as an option, we nevertheless had it and were able to reap the benefits of it whereas in many places around the world, that opportunity simply does not exist.

Since this topic has been on my mind so much lately I have naturally been looking for real world applications for acknowledging my own personal privilege and understanding what it means in the context of my life. The example that continues to pop up in my mind is in relation to language.

Equality-and-JusticeI grew up in the United States in a home that spoke English. English
was always my favorite subject in school throughout my youth. My mastery of speaking, writing, and reading the English language has never been something that I have seen as an advantage, or privilege, up until very recently when I became friends with a woman who has lived in the United States for 13 years and cannot properly communicate in the predominant language spoken here.

As part of the Spanish class that I took this quarter, there was an experiential learning element integrated into the course. All of the students from my class went to a local elementary school for two hours a week and spent time talking and getting to know one of the parents of a child who attended the school.

The woman who I met with every week spoke solely Spanish. She understood some English from hearing it so often, but could speak very little. She knew certain words and fragmented phrases, but she by no means was an English-speaker. Talking with her and getting to know here over the last two and a half months sharpened my Spanish listening and speaking skills, but above all else, humbled me and allowed me to recognize where my personal privilege comes into play.

Yes, it is true that I did not choose to be born into an English-speaking home in a country where English is the predominant language. Yes, it is not my fault that I had the opportunity to attend schools where I was taught and learned how to master a language that is viewed as essential to know in this country. But yes, I accept and acknowledge that at the end of the day this is one of my personal privileges and it has helped me to do things that otherwise would not have been possible, and many people will never have the opportunity to do.

So at the end of all this, you might be left wondering, what exactly do I get out of accepting and acknowledging my personal privilege? The list is long, but it boils down to this. By accepting the fact that you have certain personal privileges that others do not, you have the opportunity to become a better human being. You have the opportunity to gain perspective about your community and beyond. The world will shift in a way that will make you more compassionate towards others and appreciate the life that you have been given.

*I would like to note that in this post I discuss one of the many ways in which I am privileged. There are of course many, many other personal privileges I possess and acknowledge.

UPDATED – Mar. 18 at 11:26 a.m.

As an addendum to this post, I’d like to include some thoughts that were inspired by a commenter below. Acknowledging personal privilege often becomes a simple matter of saying that we are “lucky.” Rather than just acknowledging personal privilege for the sake of doing so, I encourage all people to look for ways in which they can affect changes in their social circles and communities. Be that through conversations about privilege, discussing ways to combat it, or directly helping others who are less privileged, everyone has the opportunity to make a difference. Actions such as these have the potential to inspire a cultural shift towards compassion that our society desperately needs.

This online community is a space where constructive comments are always welcome. This is a space for conversations about important topics like this one and the Branches team encourages all of our readers to continue commenting and engaging using this space.

The Significance of Gratitude

By Levina Robin

After going to so many Masses as a Catholic, there are a few homilies that stick with you because they made an impact.

grateful+sunI remember this one perfectly. I was at a teen Mass in my hometown of Ventura, California four years ago. The priest told us how gratitude changed his life. He talked of how we could transform our own lives and become happier human beings with just that one word. He made gratitude a magical power. Right then, I thought his words were beautiful. It wasn’t until my junior year of my college career that I let those beautiful words come back to me.

At that point, I let gratitude change my life. I became a happier person. I became myself. And most of all, I made my relationship with God stronger with each thought of gratitude. Today, I want to extend this wonderful power of being gracious to everyone who is reading this.

“When you become grateful for small pleasures, your outlook changes and opportunities seem to open up everywhere in your life.”

I won’t promise that having gratitude will change your life, but I will promise you the following – it can remove the negativity from your life, it can allow you to live in the present, and it can improve your self-worth.

First, gratitude has a simple mission to remove the negativity from your life. It’s a simple concept. The MORE time you take to thank God for the things in your life, the LESS time you have to have negative emotions like envy, sadness, or anger. It’s a simple concept but somehow so hard for us to grasp.

Second, gratitude allows you to live fully and more than satisfied in the present. When you appreciate the things that are already in your life, you do not need to focus on the future or the past. You appreciate the right now.

Lastly, gratitude can improve how you feel about yourself and your self-worth. Think about it, no room for negativity all around, including yourself. You start thanking God for everything you already have, which includes yourself and everything to do with yourself.

So now we have all these great facts about being thankful, but how do we turn these actions into words? Well, lucky for you spiritual humans, there are some wonderful exercises for you to try.

Journaling – Journaling does not have to be a huge commitment! Start gratitude-journalout with three things you are grateful for.

Morning Coffee – This one involves zero writing, take all the thoughts you have during morning coffee about everything you have to do and turn it into the things you’re thankful for. Simple as that.

Gratitude Application – There are applications out there that allow you to count your blessings. Some people just work better with technology and that’s okay. It is convenient and easy to approach.

The best part of all of this is, it’s easy AND free.

So here’s my challenge for all you. Try thanking God, for just one week, everyday, and watch your life transform before your eyes. Go be thankful!

A Face Painter That Saves Lives?

By Maleny Quiroz

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It was reported this morning that a face painter working for Bronco Week at Santa Clara University saved the life of a student as he was about to fall on concrete from a nearby jumper. “It has always been my dream to save lives,” the face painter told CNS, “so when I saw that a young man was about to crack his skull on the concrete, I jumped on the opportunity.”

Except this didn’t exactly happen, at least not at Santa Clara.

photo (6)That scenario was going through my head as I was getting my face painted on campus a few weeks ago. I was thinking, what do these people think of their jobs? Do they just do it for fun? Or, do they think that they’re making a positive contribution to society? And then my old self came to mind: the hopeful girl that thought that in order to be good enough, she had to hold an important job in the future that would save lives, something like a scientist that would find the cure to cancer. I wanted to make a difference, a lasting impact. However, I soon found out that Biology wasn’t really my thing and I didn’t actually like spending time in a lab. As I made the 360° turn from biology to languages, I found myself second guessing my decision. I heard comments, “Haha but seriously, what are you studying?” quite a few times and thus it would lead me to insecurities. What if my career doesn’t really help anyone? Am I doing enough? Needless to say, I was often worried about not making a difference with the career I had chosen.

However, since then I’ve learned that God assigns everyone a specific vocation, and as Gerhard Lohfink would say in his book Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was, “everyone who lives her or his specific calling ‘entirely’ lives ‘perfectly.’” As for doing and being enough, he reminds us that “not everyone can be called to everything, but the various callings can work together to form the whole of the people of God.” Which reminds me of something Henri Nouwen said and that I included in a previous post:

Community is like a large mosaic. Each little piece seems so insignificant. One piece is bright red, another cold blue or dull green, another warm purple, another sharp yellow, another shining gold. Some look precious, others ordinary. Some look valuable, others worthless. Some look gaudy, others delicate. As individuals stones, we can do little with them except compare them and judge their beauty and value. When, however, all these little stones are brought together in one big mosaic portraying the face of Christ, who would ever question the importance of any one of them? If one of them, even the least spectacular one, is missing, the face is incomplete. Together in the one mosaic, each little stone is indispensable and makes a unique contribution to the glory of God. That’s community, a fellowship of little people who together make God visible in the world.

Maybe I’ll never save a life, maybe that face painter won’t either. But something that I can say for certain? That lady definitely made my day and made me feel like a joyful purple fairy… and sometimes that’s exactly what God calls some people to do.

¿Una pinta caritas que salva vidas?

Por Maleny Quiroz

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Se informó esta mañana que una pinta caritas trabajando durante la semana de los broncos en la Universidad de Santa Clara, salvó la vida de un estudiante cuando estaba a punto de caer de un brincolin cercano hacia el pavimento. “Siempre ha sido mi sueño salvar vidas,” la pinta caritas le dijo a CNS, “así que cuando vi que un joven estaba a punto de descalabrarse en el pavimento, salté a la oportunidad.”

Excepto que esto en realidad no paso, al menos no en Santa Clara.

photo (6)Esa historia estaba pasando por mi mente mientras me estaban pintando la cara en el campus. Estaba pensando, ¿qué piensan estas personas de su trabajo? ¿Sólo lo hacen para divertirse? O piensan que están haciendo una contribución positiva a la sociedad? Y entonces quien era yo en el pasado se me vino a la mente: la niña esperanzada que pensaba que para ser lo suficientemente buena, tenía que tener un trabajo importante en el futuro que podría salvar vidas, algo así como una científica que encontrara la cura para el cáncer. Yo quería hacer una diferencia, un impacto duradero. Sin embargo, pronto me di cuenta de que la biología no era lo mío y en realidad no me gustaba pasar tiempo en un laboratorio. Al hacer un giro de 360 ​​° de la biología a los idiomas, me encontré dudando de mi decisión. Escuchaba comentarios así, “Jaja, pero en serio, ¿qué estás estudiando?” una buena cantidad de veces, lo que me llevaría a inseguridades. ¿Qué pasa si mi carrera en realidad no ayuda a nadie? ¿Estoy haciendo lo suficiente? No hace falta decir que a menudo me preocupaba no hacer una diferencia con la carrera que había elegido.

Sin embargo, desde entonces he aprendido que Dios asigna a cada uno una vocación específica, y como Gerhard Lohfink diría en su libro Jesús de Nazaret: lo que quería, quién era “todo el que vive su vocación específica ‘completamente’ vive ‘perfectamente.'” En cuanto a hacer y ser suficiente nos recuerda que “no todo el mundo puede ser llamado a todo, pero los diversos llamados pueden trabajar juntos para formar el conjunto del pueblo de Dios.” Lo cual me recuerda algo que Henri Nouwen dijo y que incluí en una entrada anterior:

La comunidad es como un gran mosaico. Cada pequeña pieza parece tan insignificante. Una pieza es de color rojo brillante, otra azul frío o verde opaco, otra morado cálido, otra fuerte amarillo, otra oro brillante. Algunas parecen preciosas, otras ordinarias. Algunas parecen valiosas, otras sin valor. Unas se ven llamativas, otras delicadas. Como piedras individuas, poco podemos hacer con ellas excepto comparar y juzgar su belleza y valor. Cuando, sin embargo, todas estas pequeñas piedras se juntan en un gran mosaico que muestran el rostro de Cristo, ¿quién cuestionaría la importancia de cualquiera de ellas? Si una de ellas, incluso la menos espectacular, no está, la cara está incompleta. Juntas en un mosaico, cada piedra es indispensable y hace una contribución única a la gloria de Dios. Eso es la comunidad, una hermandad de gente pequeña que juntos hacen a Dios visible en el mundo.

Tal vez yo nunca vaya a salvar una vida, tal vez esa pinta caritas tampoco. Pero algo que puedo decir con certeza es que esa muchacha sin duda hizo mi día y me hizo sentir como un hada morada alegre … y a veces eso es exactamente lo que Dios llama a algunas personas a hacer.

Is Our Compassion Drying Up?

By Edward Carrillo

borderissues-17With Obama’s new immigration reform being struck down by U.S. Federal District Judge Andrew S. Hannen, it has many of us wondering what is to happen next in this controversial topic of immigration here in the United States. Immigration has always been a touchy subject for many Americans since the Naturalization Act of 1790, and continues to be one here in our country. It is difficult to say what is to happen next in this grand debate put forward by our bipartisan democracy, but one thing that I am sure of is that we as Americans share a moral responsibility to save the lives of the many who die each year crossing the U.S/Mexico border trying to enter our country.

These are people who have dreamt about coming into the United States their entire life, people who have left their families back in their home countries, people risking their lives for a better future. We often tend to forget about the lives of these people because of the racial slurs we have put upon them. We call these people “illegals.” We call these people “aliens.” But in reality, all they really are is human.

Our culture has desensitized us to relating to today’s undocumented immigrants, but many of us often forget about how we all came into this nation. We are all different as Americans, but we all share one thing in common, that thing being is that at one point in our family history there was a decision made to come to this country for a better life.

Of course there are a few exceptions, but the majority of us made a willing decision to come into this country. Today hundreds of immigrants die across our borders and surprisingly enough it isn’t from violence but from something we often take for granted: food and water. The treacherous journey to get to the United States kills many human beings each year. We can all agree that water is an essential item for human beings to have. Regardless of what your beliefs are on immigration, we need to take responsibility as human beings for the deaths that happen across our borders due to dehydration.

We share a moral responsibility to take care of one another on this earth, and this is often overlooked at our borders because we often dehumanize undocumented immigrants. Contrary to rapper Drake’s new album, if you are reading this it is not too late. We still have the power and resources to change the lives of many, we can start to save human lives across the border by spreading awareness of this matter.

During this time of Lent please consider your privileges, consider the things God has done for you, and make the change God would want you to do on this earth. We are our Lord’s servants, and the Lord is asking for us all to look after the lives of those of the dying, for he is one that has experienced the same.

edEdward Carrillo is a junior at California State University Sacramento double majoring in Government and Ethnic Studies, with a concentration in Latino/a studies. On campus Edward works as a resident advisor for Housing and Residential Life, is an advocate for social justice issues, and enjoys doing yoga and tennis. He hopes that one day his writings can teach others to be advocates for justice throughout the world. Check him out on Twitter and Instagram or email him at edwardscarrillo@csus.edu if you are interested in continuing the conversation about ethical considerations surrounding immigration.

Rethinking Lent

By Jenni Sigl

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetThis Wednesday will begin the season of Lent. For those of us who identify as Christian but do not explicitly identify as Catholic, Lent can be a bit tricky. You might be spending a lot of time thinking about whether or not you should give something up or attend Ash Wednesday service. Even for those who are of the Catholic faith, Lent can be a tricky time to navigate. It may be time to rethink how we go about participating in Lent.

Historically, Lent is a period of 40 weekdays that spans over about seven and a half weeks where Christians devote themselves to fasting, abstinence and penitence in commemoration of Christ. If you are already feeling intimidated after reading that last sentence, do not worry, you are not alone.

As someone who is not a member of the Catholic Church, I have always been a little confused as to how to go about Lent. My intentions are always good, but somehow I always get lost in the technicalities that Lent seems to entail. I by no means am advocating that the traditional rules of Lent be thrown out the window, but rather suggesting that everyone participate in Lent in a way that is right for them.

Whether you identify as Catholic or not, Lent can be celebrated in a number of different ways. But, one common thread that connects everyone throughout this time should be their motives and intentions in participating.

At the end of the day, Lent is a time to get closer to God. We fast because the time we would have spent eating or preparing meals is instead spent reading the Bible or saying a prayer. We deprive ourselves of luxuries and pleasures with the hope that we will spend that time instead with God and reflecting on his presence in our lives.

I was having dinner with a friend last week when the topic of Lent came up and I asked her about her plan. For her, she plans to set a time every day to journal and pray. Journaling is something that she enjoys doing, but often gets pushed aside when everyday obligations and tasks take over. For those wishing to participate in Lent, this is a very practical and meaningful way to do so.

After giving the topic a great deal of thought, we should decide how to celebrate the season of Lent. Yes, celebrate. Remembering the life of Christ and growing in one’s faith is truly a celebration. If we do decide to deprive ourselves of a luxury, it should be with specific intentions to reallocate that time towards Christ.

Do not be afraid to think outside of the box when it comes to Lent. Do what is right for you and create a plan that will bring you closer to God instead of make you feel deprived. Instead of thinking, “What am I giving up for Lent?” ask yourself, “What are my hopes for Lent?” Whatever you choose let it be for the glory of God and with the intention of deepening your faith.