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Saint Leo University Students Share Their Faith, Lenten Journeys

Six Saint Leo students write about how they live their Catholic faith and how they have observed Lent in 2021.

Lent is a time when Catholics and many Christians focus on their spiritual goals. The season begins on Ash Wednesday, which was February 17 this year, and consists of 40 days of fasting, prayer, and penitence, leading to Easter and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

Saint Leo University, as a Benedictine Catholic college, asked some of our students what this time period means to them and how they are living their Catholic faith. Here, we share some of their responses.

Isabella JacusIsabella Jacus, senior, Honors Program, biology and religion major

Throughout my Lenten journey, though I have been busy with two thesis papers and multiple applications for post-graduation positions, I have set aside time to grow closer to God and let him guide me in everything going on in my life. In this season, especially with this being the year of St. Joseph, I have put much time into learning about and developing a relationship with St. Joseph since his life was an example of hard work and sacrifice for the sake of Jesus and his neighbors. To consecrate myself to him, I would go to Saint Jude Chapel each day and spend time in reading and prayer, and after 33 days, on March 19, I completed my consecration with a prayer from St. Peter Julian Eymard.

As part of living in the example of St. Joseph, I also tracked and broke habits getting in the way of my relationship with God, and as I worked through my intense academic schedule, I asked for his intercession. On hard nights when there was much work to be done, but not much energy in my heart, I would even do work in Saint Jude Chapel while saying prayers between tasks. I think in this time I have learned to trust God with not just spiritual difficulties that I encounter, but also ones that are more common to life, and in growing closer to St. Joseph, I have realized a powerful intercessor in my life who wants to keep helping me in any hardships I face.

During this time, I have shared my faith by telling people about the religion major and encouraging them to join if they had enough room in their schedules. For me, taking religion classes at Saint Leo University has not only helped me grow professionally, but also personally and spiritually. As I have told people about this major, I have noticed that people in the faith were intrigued and people outside it wanted to learn more about its significance.

For me and my time at Saint Leo, the Resurrection means knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that good triumphs over evil. No matter how difficult life may be, there is always hope because Jesus has won every battle.

Whether it means going through good times or bad, I realize that true success comes in being the person God created me to be, and I know that is possible despite the hardships of the world because of how Jesus transformed the trial of the cross into the means of salvation.

Samantha HarrisSamantha Harris, senior, religion major

Lent is a time in the Catholic Church in which we enter into the desert just as Jesus does in the Gospels. This symbolizes our desire to separate ourselves from our worldly desires and grow in our faith. The three pillars to this Lenten season are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. What this means in our modern times is that Catholics will often give up certain unnecessary pleasures such as coffee and use the extra time and resources for prayer or reflection.

For myself personally, I decided to give up TV, which becomes distracting and floods my imagination with values that do not always align with those that the Lord desires for me. Although I do allow myself to watch “family-friendly” TV on Sunday to relax, during the weekdays I abstain (or refrain) from watching any TV. Instead, I’ve looked for other fillers such as uplifting books, time with friends, and enjoying the creation of nature.

To enhance my prayer life, I started a Lenten devotional. Every morning I have a short devotional which consists of a Scripture passage from that day’s liturgy, a reflection, meditation questions, and a short prayer. The great thing about this exercise is that I was able to share these devotionals with my roommate and a few friends as well. Through this, I’ve grown closer with my friend community on a spiritual level and have been able to share my education with them as well.

The last pillar of Lent is almsgiving, and being a college student, it can be hard to give to others financially this year, but I have participated in the Imago Dei clothes drive and have donated my time and talents to those in need.

Nina MichelangeloNina Michelangelo, sophomore, Honors Program, accounting major

For me, the Lenten season is a time of reflection. It’s a time during the year where we personally reflect on where we have been, where we are, and where we are going in our lives. For many of us as college students, we might find ourselves presented with these questions quite often: Am I prepared enough for future challenges that I may face? What happens if I fail? How do I want others to see me? The fear of an uncertain future can often bombard us with debilitating thoughts.

This time of Lent helps us answer these challenging questions. Throughout Jesus’s lifetime, and even before he was ever born, God knew the plan that he had for his Son. Jesus was sent into the world to save humanity from sin and provide an example for all of us on how we should live our lives. In a similar way, God blesses us with this same opportunity.

What is extremely remarkable is how each of us is given our own unique spiritual gifts to do so. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 reads, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but that same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.”

From my personal view, this is the very idea that we are called to reflect on during the Lenten season. We must be able to realize all of the incredible gifts, talents, and interests that each and every one of us have been blessed with to ultimately use them for God’s glory. Not only does taking this time to reflect make an influence on us during the Lenten season, but guides us on how we live our entire lives.

Alora PetersAlora Peters, sophomore, Honors Program, English-professional writing major

Oftentimes, during Lent, we fast from a specific material good—such as refraining from watching television or drinking alcohol—as a reminder that the goods of this life pale in comparison with the beauty, glory, and perfect happiness of heaven—prefigured by Easter and Christ’s Resurrection.

In the past, I have given up eating desserts or playing video games for Lent, but after Easter I slip right back into those ordinary habits! This Lent, I wanted to focus on building holy, lasting habits that I could and would continue even after Lent ends.

This year, I’ve been starting every morning with prayer and have been listening to either Catholic radio or a religious podcast when I am driving. I’ve also been ending every night by journaling about some of the things that happened that day for which I am grateful. I think this has been beneficial for me, especially given everything that has happened in the past year. It is important for me to remember that—even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, political madness, church shutdowns, and an insanely busy school year—God has put so many blessings in my life.

During Lent, I try to spend more time in prayer—it is a wonderful opportunity to be able to go to daily Mass here at Saint Leo, whenever I am on campus. I also love being able to pray quietly in the Abbey [Church] or the Saint Jude Chapel in between classes.

When it comes to sharing the faith, I think one of the most important things for Catholics to remember is that to be holy is to be different. One of my favorite quotes is from St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel at all times—if necessary, use words.”

As a Catholic, there are actions that I perform—such as going to daily Mass, abstaining from meat on Fridays, and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday—that are very foreign to the secular world. Just by explaining to others what these practices are and why you do these practices, and demonstrating how you have made these practices a part of your daily life shows others that the faith is not something that is confined and private, but is something that you live out in everything you do.

Kyle ReidKyle Reid, graduate student, cybersecurity

Lent is one of my favorite seasons of the year! It can also be quite dreadful, especially when I give up my guilty pleasures like Swiss Rolls or cigars. Not this year, thankfully. A thought that has continued to roll over in my head is: Is there something more, more than giving up a bad habit or vice, only to pick them back up after Easter?

This is truly a remarkable season because as children of the Father, he asks us to go with him into the desert; it has so much more meaning and purpose than we can even begin to understand. While we work through our own struggles, being pruned by the Holy Spirit, we are uniting ourselves to Jesus in his own sufferings while he was in the desert for 40 days. Our attitude throughout the year should be to pick up our own cross to become more like him, but even more so in this season. Not only can we share our sufferings, but come Easter, we are brought to new life by his Resurrection and victory over the grave.

As for me in my own fasting, I gave up mindless entertainment: endless videos on YouTube, video games, and Netflix (no more Dexter/Breaking Bad re-runs). While offering these leisurely activities up, I have worked to replace them with getting back into readings and making sure I have my priorities straight. In all my excess free time, I have been able to practice guitar and have almost completed reading Lord of the Rings! (I highly recommend, btw.)

This Lenten season in particular has showed me how much I try to grasp at things of this world, trying to satisfy the bottomless hole in my heart and desires. Time and time again, I am reminded that nothing fulfills, no matter how hard I try. I subconsciously attempt to numb reality by wasting away binge-watching mindless things or by ignoring the present priorities, only to realize the God-sized hole does not go away. Nothing can fill the void in us except for God. During the Lenten season, it is the perfect time to prepare the way for him to enter our lives in a radical way.

Sam BoehneSam Boehne, senior, marketing major

For me, this Lent has been a time to prepare for the next chapter of my life. With graduation approaching, I have been trying to determine the Lord’s will for my future. My desire going into Lent was to grow closer to the heart of Jesus and listen to what the Lord is telling me.

I help lead a men's group on campus in which we have been going through Lenten reflections as a group. With Holy Week here, the Resurrection is on my mind. The Resurrection reminds me that my life on Earth is solely to glorify God. I pray that everyone who attends Saint Leo University may have the same opportunities to encounter the Lord as I did.

Join in Holy Week

Easter Mass will be celebrated at 7 p.m., Sunday, April 4, at the Abbey Church with Father Randall Meissen, university chaplain, and University Ministry team members. This Mass also will be livestreamed on the Facebook page.

In addition, two Saint Leo students, Alexa Keeler and Nora Ewer, will be welcomed into the Catholic Church during the Easter vigil Mass at 8 p.m., Saturday, March 27, at St. Anthony Catholic Church in nearby San Antonio, FL. They will receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and first holy Communion.

For information about University Ministry, call (352) 588-8331 or email ministry@saintleo.edu.

In addition, all are invited to join the Benedictine Monks of Saint Leo Abbey in the observance of Holy Week at the Abbey Church.

Holy Thursday, April 1, Mass of the Lord’s Supper, 7 p.m.

Good Friday, April 2, liturgy of the Passion, 3 p.m.

Holy Saturday, April 3, the Easter vigil Mass, 8:30 p.m.

Easter Sunday, April 4, Mass of the Resurrection, 7 p.m. (Student Mass)

All guests should wear masks and observe social distancing in the Abbey Church. The Masses will be livestreamed via the Abbey’s YouTube and Facebook channels.

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