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In this Random Nun Clip, a listener gets anxious about Lent because of past epic fails. Hear the full Ask Sister podcast at AS204. Hosts: Sister Maxine and guest Sister Shannon Schrein, OSF, a Sylvania Franciscan and theologian.

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SISTER MAXINE: Annie in Illinois, she writes: "Lent isn't even here yet and already it’s making me anxious. It’s just never really worked for me. I never manage to actually give up something or do something different from what I normally do. Maybe I just lack willpower. Any advice you can give me, I would appreciate it."

SISTER SHANNON: That’s such a wonderful question. Over time, we have certainly had a variety of approaches to the season of Lent. If I think back to when I was a child, when every statue was covered with a purple cloth, our fast and abstinence days were more multiple than they are today. What Lent meant beginning with ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday was a sense of giving up, of sacrifice, of repentance. And I’m not suggesting that all that is gone, but  what the Second Vatican Council has offered to us is a way to think individually about how we want to celebrate the season of Lent and what we want to do in order to deepen our prayer life and deepen our relationship with our God. So, it’s not necessarily about giving up.

SISTER MAXINE: Well, when you say celebrate... That would be kind of challenging because a lot of people are like, [Lent, it's supposed to] be really hard! Maybe some people want to have a challenge. But a celebration, that suggests that there is a light at the end of that tunnel. (laughter)

SISTER SHANNON: (laughter) Actually I think there is a light in every day. There’s the opportunity to be more conscious of your relationship with God because Lent is 40 days in length and it’s talked about in church and celebrated at Mass. We do some interesting things during the season of Lent. We say the Stations of the Cross. We gather for a penance service. We think about those things that bring us back. Part of the celebration for me is the celebration of the opportunity to deepen my relationship with God. It used to be because we gave things up. It was a part of our tradition. But today, more and more our church talks about the action that we can take that is in a more positive way, a way to deepen that relationship. So we might choose an act of kindness, daily, toward another person that is random, that we would go out of our way to do. It might ask us to seek forgiveness from somebody that we haven’t been in conversation with for a long time, to mend those kinds of relationships. If you’re going to give up candy, or you’re going to give up alcohol, or you’re going to eat less, it can’t be about losing weight. It needs to be about uniting your heart in solidarity with those who have less. It needs to be, and the church has always taught this, the sacrifice is about connecting with our brothers and sisters in the world whose suffering is greater than our own.

SISTER MAXINE: And maybe words or thoughts will help Annie because she’s saying that Lent never really worked for her, which I sense may be about expectations. You know, you might have a preconceived idea that Lent should be a certain way and then you fall short and then you feel like ohhh, Lent fail!  But  maybe look at it in a slightly different way. along the lines of what you’re suggesting, Shabnon. Maybe it’s not just a lack of willpower, maybe it’s a thing about expectations. Do we have to be perfect all at once inLent? That’s part of the thing, isn’t it? Part of the process?

SISTER SHANNON: While you were talking, Max, I was thinking about what would be a positive thing you could do that you would actually be able to demonstrate to yourself that’s important when you get to Easter. Let me frame this first. So, when I was a kid, we were taught at Advent time that each good act you did during Advent was like putting a piece of straw in the manger to prepare it for the coming of the baby Jesus. Right? So, you had to really work hard at that manger. You didn’t want to have only six pieces of straw in there when you laid the baby down. So, there was a sense in which there was a target. The same thing with Lent. You want to be able to say when you get to the Holy Week celebration, "I didn’t eat candy for 40 days." And it’s not about that celebration of self or even about discipline. It’s about uniting your spirit. So, what if you turn that on its head a little bit and you kept a gratitude journal during the season of Lent, and each day before you go to bed, you just simply write down something you are grateful for. You would have 40 things to celebrate when you come to the Easter celebration to say, "Lord, I can’t thank you enough for all these blessings in my life," and 40 things to go back over help you to relive the wonderful way in which God’s grace appears every day in everything that you do.

Hear the full episode of this podcast at AS204 ​​​​​​.

About our Guest

Sister Shannon Schrein is a Sylvania Franciscan and currently serves on the Leadership Team. She has a PhD in Systematic Theology and is president of the College Theology Society. She is the author of Quilting and Braiding: The Feminist Christologies of Sallie McFague  and Elizabeth A. Johnson in Conversation (Liturgical Press, 1998). She is also the editor of God Has Begun a Great Work in Us: Embodied Love in Consecrated Life and Ecclesial Movements, The 2014 Annual Volume of the College Theology Society. Sister Shannon has shared her Franciscan way of life and her love of Jesus and the Scriptures with her students for more than forty years.