Cindi Banker and her grandchildren, Sarah Goins, 14, and Matthew Goins, 10, mix up the tartar and cocktail sauce for the St. Theresa Parish Lenten fish fry March 11. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Cindi Banker and her grandchildren, Sarah Goins, 14, and Matthew Goins, 10, mix up the tartar and cocktail sauce for the St. Theresa Parish Lenten fish fry March 11. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Catholics are now well into the holy season of Lent and challenging themselves to draw closer to Christ through prayer and action.

This marks the second year of the Lenten Longings program at St. Benedict Parish in Phoenix. Stephanie Alvarez-Moore and her husband, Larry, hosted a group last year.

“It was probably one of the best things we’ve done in a long time,” Stephanie said. “We got to know each other, our God and our faith so much better.”

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The group meets weekly throughout Lent to take a deeper look at the previous and upcoming Sunday Gospel. “We’ve always done something during Lent, but nothing like this,” Stephanie said.

While praying the rosary more, walking the Way of the Cross and completing service projects helped the couple prepare for Easter in years past, Stephanie found the Lenten Longings program to be a more moving and spiritually deep experience.

The group found themselves opening up to each other in ways they could not have imagined. They began visiting an area nursing home as a service project, too.

“Faith without action is not really going anywhere,” Stephanie said. “We decided our faith had moved us this much that we should do something for each other.”

They also provided dinner and fellowship to several homeless families who stayed overnight at the parish through Family Promise of Arizona last summer. A group member who had been a less observant Catholic joined the parish’s hospitality ministry.

They also finished the Lenten journey praying more frequently and feeling more confident in leading spontaneous prayer. Two weeks before Lent, Stephanie was “chomping at the bit” to start the group again.

Courage to share

Jared Brooks, an 18-year-old at St. Steven Parish in Sun Lakes, was also eager to welcome Lent.

“It’s my favorite time of the Church year because it’s a lot about self-control and preparing you for Easter,” Brooks said. “It helps you focus your mind more on your faith instead of all the material things.”

Material sacrifices for Brooks often involve social media. Instead of focusing there, he turns his attention to whatever resources his family has or extra payer time, just a simple thing, he said.

As high school life got busier, Brooks found Lent helped him draw away from that and think of his faith more. This year, he will also have Life Teen’s “Lent Companion” to guide him. His parish’s youth ministry gave one to each teen.

“I hope it’s a time to really consider that every day is a good day to prepare for the coming of Christ,” said Gretchen Pacheco, director of youth ministry at St. Steven.

She prayed that they have more courage to share their conversion stories as they unfold. The teens are also supporting Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl efforts that benefit local and global humanitarian relief efforts.

Not every Lenten journey is taken alone, however. A dozen couples at St. Bernadette Parish in Scottsdale signed up for a Lenten couples Bible study.

The Lenten pillars emphasize prayer, service, almsgiving and self-sacrifice, said Dawn Morano, who is facilitating one of the studies. The mother of four teenagers finds the education piece to also be vital.

“Oftentimes, the heart cannot follow what the mind does not understand,” Morano said.

She hopes the couples’ journey through Mark Hart’s Bible timeline strengthens the marriage bond by reaffirming the sacramental union fighting against our culture and the flesh. She’s said once God is at the forefront of marriage, everything changes. “What separates us from non-believers is the access to God’s power,” Morano said noting the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and confession. Prayer and the Bible play a role too.

“The Bible shouldn’t be reduced to a book of morals. It’s a timeless book of truths, Morano said. “It changes the way we think.”

The coordinator of children’s catechesis at St. Benedict is trying to guide a family’s way of thinking. Holly Forseth is hosting the parish’s first Family Service Saturday as a Lenten project March 22.

The drop-in event will feature lessons in social teaching, Scripture sharing and prayer at seven service stations. Children can make rainbow loom bracelets for the elderly and sick, a placemat for the elderly and cards for homebound parishioners. They will also make fleece blankets for kittens, sandwiches for the homeless, collect children’s books and write notes to active duty military.

“What we’re preparing for is truly understanding what it means for Jesus to die for us,” Forseth said.

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