The Meaning of Lent – Preserving the Tradition in College Campuses

Mar 10, 2003 02:13 PM EST

March 5 marked the beginning of Lent, where the faithful rededicate themselves through prayer, fasting, reflection and repentance. Catholic students across college campuses also began to dedicate themselves to faith and started to realize the difficulties of applying the gospel message to their lives.

"The real project for the undergraduate students is making the faith that they grew up in, which is their parents' faith, their own," said Father Thomas Rausch, head of theology at Loyola Marymount University. "We have some who are totally oblivious to the fact that it's Lent and others going to campus Masses daily."

Lent, the forty days symbolizing Jesus’ time in the desert before his crucifixion, for many is the time of abstinence and purification.

Often times, believers follow the tradition by refraining from red meat and alcohol.

"Two years ago, I gave up alcohol and I was miserable for 40 days," said Joe Boskovich, 22, a senior at USC.

"I won't have as much fun, but I'll be a better person," he continued.

Julia Falkone, 20, a sophomore from Reno has sacrificed webserfing and watching her favorite television program, “the West Wing,” which she described as her “lame addiction.”

When "I have free time during the day, that's what I do," she said. "I think I could do it, there aren't any new episodes for a while."

Father Rausch says the idea behind the traditional practice of abstaining as an “external sign of internal conversion.”

He commented that giving up frivolous vices like movies and chocolate are insincere gestures that go against the meaning of Lent. To Rausch, making sincere sacrifices such as cellular phones and the Internet as a serious gesture defines the meaning of the season.

Other believers decide to take a more active method of doing instead of abstaining.

Loyola freshman Whitney McCormick, 18, said her goal is to "do a nice deed a day -- even the smallest thing like holding the door open for somebody who has their hands full."

McCormick had already given up soda, red meat and potato chips as a way to purify herself.

"Giving up something that you really love helps you look beyond the materialistic things," she said. "It makes you evaluate what's important, to be grateful for what you have because sometimes we take advantage of what we have without realizing it."

Sara Madge, 21, a junior at USC used to give up chocolate and carbonated beverages for Lent because of tradition.

I did it because “my mom made me,” she said.

However, she realized that such restraints did not help her become a better person. Therefore, Madge decided instead to exemplify her faith through everyday activities.

That's "not to say that I am totally virtuous, because I'm not, but I need to focus on adding more positive things to my life than taking away,” she said.

Father William Messenger, director of USC's Catholic Center, agrees with that approach. He believes doing something active for the season is a better way to deepen a student’s relationship with God than the traditional way of abstinence.

I would prefer that students add charitable acts to their rather than omit things, he said. "My standard homily on Ash Wednesday includes, 'I do not give up Scotch, so bring all your half-empty bottles to me.' "

By Pauline J.