The vestments and altar adornments have changed from green to purple, fish tacos appear with regularity on family menus, and pious school-age Catholics walk past checkout-line candy displays with all the willpower they can muster.
Across the globe and around the Archdiocese of Portland, Catholics are immersed in a season of reflection, penance and preparation for the source and summit of the Christian faith: the death and resurrection of Jesus.
“Lent is a new beginning,” Pope Francis said in this year’s Lenten message. “Christians are asked to return to God with all their hearts, to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord.”
The church in her wisdom gives Catholics tools to nurture this paramount friendship during Lent — fasting, almsgiving and prayer. And here in western Oregon, the faithful are putting them to use in diverse, intentional ways.
Michelle Brugato, a member of St. Ignatius Parish in Portland, uses the word “mindful” when she speaks of her Lenten journey.
Instead of giving up wine and chocolate during these 40 days, Brugato is more conscientious about what she eats in order to “be in solidarity with people throughout the world who live with so much less, … who don’t have Safeways lined with food,” she said.
For example, the one-time Peace Corps volunteer eats less meat, cooking dishes native to Africa or Latin America.
Darren Cools is creative director of design for the archdiocesan Communications Office, a teacher and freelancer. He’s also a husband and a father to three young children. Since his life is jam-packed, he plans his Lent carefully.
After growing up in a family that observed the faith in a rigid way, Cools needed “a different approach” as an adult, he said. “Simply following rules is a hollow thing. The purpose of the rules is to help you have a deeper relationship with Jesus,” but you must first have that relationship, he said.
Cools’ Lenten fasting includes nothing extreme in one area but rather “a scaling back on a whole lot of fronts.” He will only have a drink on Sunday; he’ll bring a lunch rather than buy it.
“They are small acts, but they can be cumulative,” said Cools, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Portland.
Now that he has a friendship with Jesus, he knows the value of “strengthening the will,” he said.
Self-discipline helps us live with intentionality, said Cools, and to “hear and see God in our lives more clearly.”
During Lent, Catholics are asked to focus more on almsgiving, which includes donating money or goods to the poor or performing other acts of charity. Almsgiving is “a witness to fraternal charity” and “a work of justice pleasing to God,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
For Brugato, almsgiving takes the form of cozy hats. The avid knitter and crocheter uses the work of her nimble fingers to make winter wear for those who are poor and homeless. She donates the hats to the Union Gospel Mission, a Portland nonprofit assisting the homeless, and the Salvation Army.
Mark Moffenbier, a parishioner of All Saints Church in Portland, says he tries to make an extra effort to do something helpful or kind each day during Lent. He’ll assist an elderly person struggling with a shopping cart, or simply “let the guy in the next lane in without honking,” he said.
As the office coordinator for St. Cecilia Parish in Beaverton, Cheryl Motal has numerous responsibilities and limited time. During Lent, she strives to give more of that time to people rather than paperwork, listening to individuals with patience and an open heart.
On Motal’s desk at St. Cecilia, just below a bobblehead Pope Francis, thin strips of paper with colored lettering are taped in a row. One reads, “Rend your hearts, not your garments.” Each reminder is drawn from Liturgical Press’ “Daily Reflections for Lent,” a devotional by a contemplative Benedictine nun that includes daily Mass readings.
Motal read a devotional last year, but said she was forgetting the main messages and thought visual reminders would make the biblical wisdom stick.
“It’s definitely helped me stay more focused this Lent,” she said of her colorful notes.
Cools signed up to receive daily readings in his inbox, sent by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (the USCCB also offers short Lenten video reflections and podcasts, available at usccb.org/bible/reflections).
And he’s swapped his commute-time audiobooks for “an open dialogue” with God.
“It’s just a 20-minute conversation,” said Cools, but it grounds his workday and family time.
Brugato said she uses Lent as a time to “become reacquainted with meditation” and, echoing many fellow Catholics, “to pray the rosary daily.”
“I’m very mindful that Lent is a ‘do-over,’” she added, “a chance to contemplate the sacrifice Christ gave for us out of love.”