By C.R. Horner
Okay, Lent’s coming up fast. Ash Wednesday is March 5. (When are you getting your ashes? Check Mass times if you haven’t already.)
Lent, the 40 days leading to the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus during Holy Week, is a time of reflection, penance, and sacrifice. Have you thought and prayed about what you’re doing for Lent this year? The days leading up to Ash Wednesday are the time to prepare.
We often associate Lent with “giving up” something. Ideally, the “giving up” during these 40 days leads to breaking bad habits that may be keeping us from getting closer to God.
Another way of approaching the season is to start good habits that will bring us closer to God.
So, in the context of the ancient practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, here are some real-life, practical suggestions for starting habits that will strengthen our relationship with God.
No matter how strong our prayer life is, we can always improve. Here are some practices to consider:
- Read a chapter of one of the gospels every day. Start with the Gospel of Matthew, which is the first gospel and the one we’re listening to during Sunday Mass throughout this liturgical year. If you read one chapter a day, you can finish the Gospel of Matthew and nearly the entire Gospel of Mark by Easter. If you keep at it, you can finish the Gospels of Luke and John by Pentecost. And at the end of that time, you’ll have a much better idea of who Jesus is.
- Spend 10 minutes in silence every day, just listening for what God has to say to you.
- Go to Mass one more day a week than you’re going already (unless, of course, you’re already going seven days a week).
- Read a Catholic book. Two books on my Lenten reading list are The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton.
The ancient practice of fasting helps us to join more fully in the suffering of Christ through denial of physical comforts. In addition to abstaining from meat on Fridays this Lent, consider one of the following:
- Pick a day other than Friday as a fast day: two small meals and a regular-size meal
- Choose a meal on a day other than Friday to abstain from meat. Offer up this meal to God as a sacrifice.
The practice of giving alms, or monetary donations, is another ancient tradition that reveals an eternal truth: small sacrifices can increase our faith and bring us closer to God. Some suggestions:
- Take the money you’re saving on food from your fasting practices (see above) and donate it to the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl campaign.
- If you are already tithing a percentage of your income, consider increasing it by one percent (for instance, if you now give five percent of your salary to your parish or other organizations, raise it to six percent for Lent). Dedicate this increased giving to organizations that work directly with the poor.
- Give alms of your time and treasure. Consider a volunteer opportunity, either on a one-time or ongoing basis.
The list could go on endlessly, but you get the idea: to get more out of Lent, put more into Lent. Most importantly, start with prayer. Ask God what you’re being called to this Lent, listen to the response, and put it into action.