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Sacrifice in an age of plenty

Ash Wednesday marked the start of Lent for Christians, a time for fasting, reflection and prayer
Ava McKinnon

Seated in circles in a candlelit gym, the students of St. Patrick’s School nibble at a meagre lunch, chewing slowly on buns, each dry morsel swallowed with a big gulp of water.

On a screen in front, images flash of children their age, with sunken faces, bloated and hungry bellies, pleading eyes.

Foregoing a tasty lunch on Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent for Aaron John, the beginning of a season for reflection, simplicity and sacrifice.

Usually, there’s a lot more flavour packed between the bread – the 13-year-old favours the ham sandwich, embellished with mustard, mayo and cheese.

Giving up just one lunch, though, is simple. This year, John will attempt something more difficult. He’s giving up Facebook for 40 days, until Easter, a nod to Jesus, who spent the same amount of time fasting in the desert.

“I got into it in January and it’s addicting,” says the Grade 7 student at the Maple Ridge Catholic school.

“But I think I can do it.”

Christians around the world will be abstaining from stuff they like for the next 40 days, from meat to sex, swearing, television, Twitter, chocolate and chips, even cutting down on carbon emissions.

In this age of plenty, Lent is a time to reconnect with God, focus on fasting, prayer and charity.

“It keeps us mindful of the suffering of Christ right up till his crucifixion,” explains Julie Rose, the office manager at St. Pats.

“When we have the hunger lunch, it gives the children a way to connect and unite with other children in the world. Our kids have an abundance of everything. It reminds them there are others who are not as fortunate as they are.”

And it’s not just sacrifice that’s important. Giving back is another aspect of Lent.

At St. Pats, the kids donate their lunch money on Ash Wednesday to the Holy Childhood charity, which helps children in the developing world.

“Self-denial is important to spiritual development,” says Rose.

“It becomes very personal as an adult.”

These days, though, it’s not only Christians who embracing the Lenten message. There’s a secular movement abuzz with ways to cut back on daily excesses and embrace a spring time renewal.

“If we don’t have a purpose to life,” says Rose, “then we have nothing. We can all live for the moment, or acquire all sorts of things, but what comes after it?”

With a cross smudged on her forehead, Chantelle Coleman made a promise to pray more every day. The ash that marks her forehead is a reminder to her and other Christians that she came from the earth and to dust she shall return.

“I don’t think I talk to God enough,” says the 12-year-old.

Her classmate, Courtney Savoie, is giving up candy, gummy bears and gummy worms, to be precise. Another, Renée De la Torre, will be cutting back on the time she spends on Facebook.

“I can use that time to do something for others,” the 13-year-old explains.

For Lent, Brandan Shepherd will be kinder to his sister. She’s 11, he says, and she makes him mad.

“I like to taunt her,” he admits.

But sacrifice isn’t as hard as it seems, assures Shepherd, who is 12.

“It might seem difficult, but once you’re doing it, it’s a cinch.”