The cardinal archbishop of Los Angeles, Roger Mahony, is suggesting to his flock that the answer is not what you might think.
Here’s part of his 2009 Lenten message:
According to the calendar, Ash Wednesday occurs this week and we begin another Lent.
Except for this year.
Lent actually began in 2007 for many thousands of families all across the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and we have been in a long and protracted season of Lent ever since. In what sense? The annual Lenten season calls us to reflect more deeply into our lives with God, to re-order our personal priorities according to the Gospel, and to live out increased personal sacrifice in our daily living.
With the economy continuing to spiral downwards day after day, with millions of jobs being eliminated, with people unable to make their house payments thus losing their homes, and with so many fearful of what tomorrow might bring — we have truly been on a long Lenten journey over these past two years. Incredible difficulties have burdened families: parents ever fearful that they cannot provide for their children, the unknown financial calamity that lurks just around the corner, the awful feeling of being one paycheck away from complete financial meltdown.
In prior years when life and our financial security were far more predictable, Lent meant that we could choose which special sacrifices we wanted to undertake — but just for six weeks, until Easter Sunday. And then back to normal.
But now we have a new reality: we aren’t choosing our sacrifices this year, they have chosen us. And they aren’t just for six weeks; they have been our burden for over 75 weeks now with no sign of relief in sight.
This reality makes Lent 2009 unique and gives us the opportunity to enter this year’s Lenten journey from a fresh and life-giving spirit. Most Catholics in our Archdiocese do not need to select a special form of sacrifice this Lent; they already have more than their share. So, how do we act differently this year?
Let me suggest that we recall the origin of the word “sacrifice.” It comes from two Latin words: sacrum and facere — meaning “to make sacred.” A sacrifice, then, is accepting an ongoing or new reality — usually burdensome — and turning that into something sacred, a source of God’s love and grace.
The entire message is at the link.