For Alaina Selvaggio, the Lenten season has always meant going without some of her favorite things. “I’ve given up soda, sweets. I tried giving up TV, but that didn’t work out too well. Basically, I’ve given up things I’ve enjoyed,” Selvaggio says. When speakers at an Ash Wednesday service at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School, where Selvaggio is a senior, pitched a message about “going green” for Lent, her focus shifted.
For Alaina Selvaggio, the Lenten season has always meant going without some of her favorite things.
“I’ve given up soda, sweets. I tried giving up TV, but that didn’t work out too well. Basically, I’ve given up things I’ve enjoyed,” Selvaggio says.
When speakers at an Ash Wednesday service at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School, where Selvaggio is a senior, pitched a message about “going green” for Lent, her focus shifted.
Now she counts carpooling, using low-watt light bulbs, recycling and unplugging not-in-use hairdryers among her Lenten commitments.
“I’ve looked at Lent differently because of this,” says Selvaggio, who intends to study fashion retail management at Columbia College in Chicago this fall. “I can do something I wouldn’t normally do.
“A lot of students considered this, if they didn’t give up something already.”
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving have been important hallmarks of the Lenten season. This period for Christians marks a time of preparation for the Easter Triduum, including Good Friday (commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus) and Easter itself.
Increasingly, Christians are supplementing such self-sacrifice with charitable works in the community or personal commitments to favorite causes.
That’s what Rosemary Connolly of Chatham did recently when she got her hair cut at Great Clips in Springfield for Locks of Love, a nonprofit entity that makes wigs for children suffering from cancer.
“What better time to shed some vanity?” notes Connolly, who works at the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation.
It took Connolly two years to grow out her hair, and this marks the second time she’s shorn it for Locks of Love.
“You don’t have to know the stories of these (cancer patients),” Connolly says. “I know I don’t feel their pain and thank God I don’t. I realize some people can’t always give in one way, so you make up your own.”
One area church is combining prayer and exercise during the Lenten season.
Parishioners at St. Paul’s Lutheran (ELCA) Church in Hillsboro are again conducting the “Here I Step” pedometer walking campaign. Participants are encouraged over the 40-day period to walk, run, dance or exercise their way to 80 miles, the distance from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth to Jerusalem, where he spent the final days of his ministry.
Doris Enochs says church members walk as a group on Mondays, with some wearing T-shirts with a caricature of Martin Luther in tennis shoes. Each person keeps an activity log throughout Lent; the logs are then turned in to Enochs.
The idea, Enochs says, is to increase physical activity and promote prayerfulness.
“The body is something that should be taken care of,” she says. “That’s a way to live for God. Walking, basically that was the only mode of transportation (in Jesus’ days) — that and a few burros. There were no Nikes or comfortable walking shoes.”
As a Greek Orthodox Christian growing up in Springfield, Nick Xamis says he adhered to the strict fasting rules of Lent, which forbids meat and dairy products (and, at other times, wine and oil.)
Xamis admits he drifted away from fast-keeping, but later came back to it — with renewed zeal — when he got married.
“When you make the self-sacrifice, it turns out not to be a sacrifice; you benefit from it,” says Xamis, who worships at St. Anthony’s Hellenic Orthodox Church in Springfield.
The additional “demands” of Lent — reading Scriptures and attending additional church services — have a benefit in the end, Xamis says.
“When you do the readings, when you attend the Friday services, Pascha (Easter) becomes so much more real. If you don’t fully participate, you deprive yourself of something unique and fulfilling.”
The Rev. Ken Venvertloh, pastor of Our Saviour Catholic Church in Jacksonville, says the church has emphasized charitable works in recent years that underline parishioners’ roles as servants.
Catholic Relief Services has for years implemented its Rice Bowl campaign in parishes that encourages families to set aside extra change throughout the Lenten period.
The Jacksonville parish, Venvertloh says, financially supports a sister parish in Guatemala. Recently, the emphasis has been on purchasing filters for purifying drinking water. Locally, the parish supports Habitat for Humanity.
Lent, Venvertloh says, “moves us to the Easter Triduum itself.
“We’re not just recalling an event. We all live the Paschal mystery. There’s pain and struggle, but in the end, good will overcome evil.”
State Journal-Register writer Steven Spearie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A traditional way many people observe Lent is to alter their diets. Barbara Fuhrwerk of Springfield notes it’s not always easy, but that she’s learned from the practice.
“Many years ago, a good challenge for Lent was the practice of biting carefully into a chocolate-covered peanut, spit out the chocolate and then eat the peanut. This happened more than once when my mother would give up candy for me for Lent and I was abiding by the letter of the law.
“Then, my father, who was not Catholic, was the only person in the house who loved fish, so he teased us about having to eat fish on Friday (then the standard tuna-noodle casserole) when he would have been happy to have it every night of the week. Later, my friends reveled in ordering shrimp or lobster tail in lieu of the lowly hamburger on Fridays.
“Somehow, I’ve grown to realize the tough fasting is to summon gentleness toward the folks around me, to speak with gratitude to clerks and waiters and cleaning staff at businesses. Serving a meal to the homeless is also sometimes a stretch out of my comfort zone. And the impulse most challenging is to refrain from buying some frivolous item and an extra ‘something’ that I don’t need.
“A few minutes a day in mindfulness and the practice of Mother Teresa’s ‘do what is right in front of you’ makes Lent a special time to greet the new life seething in the earth beneath us.
“That takes care of the angst about that forbidden morsel of chocolate that may have slipped on my tongue.”