There’s a good chance you will cross paths with a Catholic giving something up for Lent this year, given that one in five people in Sydney belong to the Catholic faith. 

The lead-up to Easter is an important time for all Christians to remember the work of Jesus, but this season holds a special significance for Catholic people. Understanding this is key and can unlock some great conversations about Jesus.

“Lent reminds us that there are lots of Catholics around us, and [it’s a good prompt] for us to understand our Catholic friends and family and colleagues better,” says the Rev Mark Gilbert, who serves with Certainty 4 Eternity – which helps people have good conversations about Jesus with those from a Roman Catholic background. 

One in five people in Sydney belong to the Catholic faith

For those who are unfamiliar with the season of Lent, it’s a period in the liturgical calendar leading up to Easter Sunday, beginning with Ash Wednesday and lasting for 40 days. During this time, many Catholics will choose to go without something as an act of penance for sins and to acknowledge the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. 

“The penance [for Catholics] is an act of spiritual devotion that [they believe] has the effect of ameliorating some of their sins,” Mr Gilbert says. “For a lot of Catholics, it’s a time of heightened spiritual awareness and devotion.”

Curious conversations

Faith conversations can be less natural with people of a Catholic background. For many, conversations of a spiritual nature happen with priests and qualified people, rather than featuring in everyday discussions with friends or colleagues.

It can be easier to ask questions and learn about our Catholic friends’ beliefs during Lent. “Being curious is a good thing, to be genuinely curious,” Mr Gilbert says. “If they share that they’ve given up something for Lent, we can respond with ‘Oh wow, we don’t give up stuff for Lent in our church, tell me more about it’. 

“Be genuinely positive about wanting to find out and understand what it is and why they do it. For a lot of Catholics, it will be a family tradition. You can share something about your own spiritual background after you’ve asked them about theirs and that can lead to further conversation.”

A key question

“A really good question to ask people is, ‘What can I pray for you over Lent?’” he adds. “Sometimes people are doing a particular fast, or giving something up for a particular reason. Maybe it’s so their kid will go to church, or for their elderly mum who has been diagnosed with cancer, or because they’re finding work difficult.  

"A really good question to ask people is, 'What can I pray for you over Lent?'..."

“There might be something behind [their sacrifice] so that God can answer a particular prayer. 

“Catholics are more aware of their sin over Lent. They’re giving up stuff because of their sin. [They see] Lent as a way to get better. But we know from Titus 2, God’s grace saves us and God’s grace teaches us. The things we know and value as Christians, we can share all of those things with Catholics during Lent.” 


  •  that Catholics, with their increased activity at this time, get to encounter Jesus clearly through his word and know his forgiveness for their sins, both now and forever
  • for Protestants, that Lent might be a time where we get to know and love our Catholic friends, neighbours and colleagues better that we might have great conversations about Jesus