This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. It is traditional for us a s Catholics to ‘give up’ something for Lent, but it is also a good practice to add something to our Lenten plan. Lent is a solemn time to focus on Jesus, who spent forty days in the desert fasting and praying. In order to die a little more to our personal selfishness and sinful attitudes and rise to new life in Christ on Easter morning, we enter into the three traditional pillars of Lenten observances; prayer, fasting and almsgiving
Prayer is an essential element of our Christian life, and Lent is a fitting time of year for growth in prayer – to deepen our friendship with Jesus. Spending quiet time to read and ponder a Bible passage will allow opportunities to encounter Christ. There are six Sundays in Lent, with readings specifically chosen for each one. Consider reading the Gospel passage ahead of time, taking the time to soak in the message and gain more understanding. The Mass Readings, daily and Sunday, can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings. The Stations of the Cross are another appropriate prayer during Lent, as it calls for pondering the 14 “Stations” which commemorate the Lord’s journey to death and burial.
Fasting is another special Lenten observance, and is form of self-denial and a way of drawing closer to God. Our lives have become so busy and cluttered that God gets less and less of our time. Through prayer and denying ourselves some things, our hearts are freer to make more room for God because we become less dependent on material things and less attached to the satisfaction they bring. The Church encourages abstaining from meat on all Fridays of the year in honor of our Lord’s death, there are some days that are required fasting. (See below) We can offer these sacrifices to God for someone who is suffering.
Our last traditional Lenten foundation, almsgiving, is another form of self-denial, how we share what we have with the poor. In addition to giving money, food, or clothing to an individual in need, consider giving some of your time to be with another person for a simple conversation, such as an elderly woman in a nursing home, or a retired man who lives alone and has no family in the area.
One last thing to consider, is in a spiritual battle, when we strive to eliminate particular things from our lives, we need to fill the void with a virtue. How can this work? Consider:
• Fast from words that wound; feast on phrases that uplift. • Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
• Fast from anger; feast on patience.
• Fast from worry; feast on trust in God’s plan.
• Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
• Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
• Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
• Fast from discouragement; feast on hope in God.
• Fast from suspicion; feast on truth.
• Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
• Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that undergirds.
A good Lent prepares us to celebrate the greatest events in Christ’s life – His suffering, violent death on the cross and Resurrection from the dead – that frees us from the slavery of sin. This season of grace will also bring healing, renewal, and reconciliation in our lives.