Lent is more than a season of denial and sacrifice, local clergy say.
Lent is typically characterized as a time of sacrifice, a reminder of the 40 days Jesus fasted and prayed in the desert.
Local clergy, however, are asking parishioners to take stock in their relationships with others instead of strictly doing without certain things from Ash Wednesday until Easter -- April 4 -- the Christian church's most significant holiday celebrating Jesus' Resurrection.
"It's a time to look at one's self and see what you can do to make one's life better, and your relationship with neighbors better," said the Rev. Charles Polifka of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.
"There should be some self-searching and some changes in behaviors, but it's also a time of the year to learn to appreciate the blessings we have," Polifka said.
Some families in the parish, for example, donate to Catholic Relief Services' Operation Rice Bowl program by preparing a simple meal each week and donating the money they would have spent on food.
"Lent is a time of joy," Polifka said. "It's a time of sharing our bounty."
In recent decades, the Catholic church has become less strict concerning methods of fasting and sacrifice.
"Change is more personal," Polifka said. "It's becoming more of a personal responsibility than an imposed responsibility."
Many churches will have weekly Wednesday night services leading up to Good Friday and Easter services. The Rev. Norm Steffen is a retired pastor who presided over the first of six Wednesday night services at Redeemer Lutheran Church this week.
Steffen said the services, which include film presentations, will cover topics from temptation to wavering faith.
"This is a season where we concentrate in-depth about the meaning of our Christian life," Steffen said. "This is not about giving something up, it's about empowerment. We concentrate more on the basic message of God's grace in Jesus Christ."
The Rev. Eugene Eckhardt, acting pastor at Redeemer Lutheran, said Ash Wednesday is a day of penance, which leads into a devotion to "an intensive study of the Passion of Christ.
"It is a time of repentance, of personal inventory," Eckhardt said. "Actually, any time is a good time to take an inventory of how you stand before the Lord."
At St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, west of Lawrence, Wednesday night services during Lent will be based on the words Jesus spoke from the cross. St. Margaret's pastor, the Rev. Darrel Proffitt, said the services provide an opportunity to be closer to Jesus and his experiences, giving more meaning to parishioners own spiritual lives.
"I stress that Lent is not just a time for denial, but a time for growing closer to God, finding the need for the miracle of Easter," Proffitt said. "(The services) are intended to help us gain a clearer knowledge of who God is and a closer experience of God's love. As we look at Jesus' death and sacrifice, our love for him grows even greater."
-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is email@example.com.