The Catholic Messenger asked Father Ross Epping, chaplain of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, to respond to questions about the university’s observance of the Lenten season, which began on Wednesday, March 2.
Q. How is St. Ambrose University observing Lent this year?
A. I think St. Ambrose will observe Lent this year similar to the rest of the diocese. I think there is this tendency to add more or to create something new, exciting or different during the Lenten season. I think that’s a fair thing for us, as faith communities, to do. But, I also think that sometimes the true intention and spirit of Lent can get easily buried in the midst of that mentality. We don’t always need to do something “new” or add something into the season for it to be fruit in our lives.
The structure that the Church gifts to us is already enough for such fruit to grow — prayer, fasting and almsgiving. At St. Ambrose, we offer the opportunities for our campus to embrace those sacrificial pieces of the season through Service Saturdays, our Lenten Rice Bowl collection, eucharistic adoration, praise and worship nights and daily Mass. There is one project we are adding to the season, and that is our Lenten Reflection Series.
Q. How would you describe the reflection project you have initiated in Campus Ministry?
A. Our Lenten Reflection Series includes each of the 40 days of Lent, with one member of our campus community reflecting on one specific day. They may use the daily readings to help cultivate their reflection or they may simply embrace the whisperings our Spirit places on their hearts.
Q. Who have you invited to participate and why?
A. We wanted to make sure that we were casting our net widely when we asked folks to participate. We have faculty, staff and students from different faith backgrounds, different cultural backgrounds and different generational backgrounds. Our hope is to provide a broad view and understanding of Lent through the eyes and hearts of our diverse campus community.
Q. What materials do you anticipate participants will use in their reflections?
A. The only material I gave to them was the daily readings. Apart from that, I simply emphasized our ongoing need to listen to the Spirit and pay attention to where our hearts and minds are being directed as we prepare to write our reflections.
Q. How will you disseminate these reflections?
A. Our Lenten Reflection Series will be posted to our Campus Ministry Facebook account and Campus Ministry Instagram account. From there, folks can read and share as they desire.
Q. Whom do you hope to reach with the reflections?
A. Mainly our campus community. As is our St. Ambrose tradition, our mission is to fully embrace and integrate ourselves into the greater Davenport community. So, this series is certainly for all those individuals who want to read them and participate in the series. However, this series was born out of our desire to provide reflections for our campus community — that is who we minister to, first.
Q. What do you hope the participants will take away from this project?
A. My hope is that the community, whether they are those who are writing the reflections or those reading them, will be inspired and directed into deeper reflection during this Lenten season.
Q. What do you hope to take away from this project?
A. To be inspired and directed into deeper reflection during this Lenten season.
Q. What percentage of the student body do you think observes Lent?
A. I don’t actually know. It is interesting, though, that of all the Masses celebrated each year, Ash Wednesday tends to be the most full, superseding that of Christmas and Easter.
Q. How has your appreciation for Lent evolved since you were a student at St. Ambrose University?
A. When we are children, Lent is the time when we are told to give something up and so we give something up: cookies, candy, fighting with our sibling. That tends to be the extent of our understanding as children.
Today, it is a much broader, deeper understanding. What does the word “Lent” mean, but “spring,” an invitation to a springtime for my soul. Forty days to cleanse myself and open my eyes to what remains when the general comfort of all things is gone. Forty days to remember what it is like to live by the grace of God alone and not by what I can supply for myself. Lent is no longer the season to “give something up,” it is the season to embrace my relationship with the Living God and be challenged by that relationship to be better, to be more, to be whole.
(Read St. Ambrose University Lenten reflections in future issues of The Catholic Messenger.)