03/08/06 — Leaders say strengthening faith should be Lenten goal

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Leaders say strengthening faith should be Lenten goal

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on March 8, 2006 1:55 PM

It's not just about choosing something to give up until Easter.

Lent, which began this past week on Ash Wednesday, is 40 days to think about faith and sacrifice, some Wayne County religious leaders and churchgoers say.

The Rev. Tom Norris of St. Mary Roman Catholic Church in Goldsboro said from the beginning of Christianity to today, Lent has focused on three aspects, prayer, fasting and giving alms.

Prayer provides a person with a way to seek spiritual introspection, while fasting allows a person to focus more on his or her relationship with the Lord, Norris said.

"Alms giving is about generosity. People can realize what the Lord has given them and find a way to give that love and support to others," he said.

Lent started as a final retreat for people who were about to baptized so they could renew their commitment to their faith, Norris said.

The Rev. Gene Carpenter of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church said Lent was a way for the Christians who witnessed Jesus Christ's passion and resurrection to change spiritually.

"Because of their notorious sins, some had separated from the Lord's word. Lent was a chance to renew their repentance and faith," Carpenter said.

It also provides Christians with a chance to "turn away from the things that keep us from God's love and message," he said.

For many Catholics and other Christians, Norris said how people plan to improve their souls during Lent is a very personal issue. Even priests are not infallible, and he said he has looked at his own life to see how he could personally improve.

"Everybody's lives are so busy, and people tend to cut corners. I'm trying to find more time for spiritual readings -- not just the Bible, but other spiritual books. I've found the only way to do that is to get up earlier," Norris said.

These days, Norris said some Catholics are content to give up a vice for the 40 days of Lent, but revert back to their old ways as soon as Lent is over. He said these people have lost the true meaning of the spiritual experience.

"People need to try to make a new virtue during this time. The idea is that it is a conversion process or a change that begins with this retreat," Norris said. "Perhaps a good question to ask someone is 'Do you intend for this to have an everlasting affect on your life?'"

For the next 40 days and beyond, Carpenter said he plans to be more spiritually and physically active in his spare time.

"I am one that can find it easy to vegetate in front of the TV, and I am going to try to give that up. I'll still watch a ballgame if it is something that I want to watch, but I'm going to try not to vegetate as much," Carpenter said.

Instead, he said he would like to spend his time with his wife, dogs and books, while enjoying the outdoors.

For many people, their Lent choice is personal -- their pact with God.

County Commissioner J.D. Evans said he enjoys participating in Lent because of the faith it can instill within a person, but he does not discuss what he gives up for Lent from year to year.

"I believe it is something worthwhile for people to do because it helps their relationship with God, but people should make the effort all year to become a better person," Evans said.

Others know exactly what they want to give up, it is just a matter of finding the willpower to follow through.

"Sweets," said Chuck Waller, director of the Wayne County chapter of the Red Cross. "That is something I should give up during this period."

"I've been thinking about giving up Diet Pepsi," Pikeville resident Sandra Head said with a laugh, "but I haven't made a decision yet."

Although participating in Lent has not been a part of her Baptist faith, she said she has noticed that many churches have incorporated the ritual and services over the past few years. And, Mrs. Head said, she believes sharing these beliefs is an important step for the country's religions.

"I think it is important that other religions are beginning to share beliefs and that children are getting involved in something that brings them closer to their faith," she said.

For Charles and Betty Ellis, giving their time to help others has been a reward in itself every year.

"We think it is a great time to give up time for others. We look after the sick. We make them stew and visit with them," Charles Ellis said.

Every week during Lent, Mrs. Ellis said she and her husband attend services and get involved in church programs. This weekend, Charles Ellis said that will include feeding a women's mission study group at St. Paul Methodist Church.

Besides, Charles Ellis said, helping others during this time of year beats the alternative.

"We could give up sweets any time," he said, "but I'm not sure we'd want to."