Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of Lent. For many years, I had the opportunity to be a catechist (teacher of the Catholic faith) for the Faith Formation program at St. Stephen Cathedral. The Sunday before Ash Wednesday was reserved for teaching about the season of Lent. We discussed how Lent is a time for a person to change and grow. This was depicted using the analogy of planting a seed. The seed, which represents oneself, is planted in the soil, also known as Lent. For that seed to change and grow into the beautiful plant, care must be provided for the seed. Three practices of Lent – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – help to provide that care for the individual to grow closer to God.
Prayer: Perhaps, by getting up just thirty minutes earlier each day, we can devote that time to prayer with God. Try to add time to go to Mass on a weekday or stop in church to make a visit before the Blessed Sacrament. Pray the rosary as a family. Pray the Stations of the Cross. These are just a few ways to incorporate prayer into our days.
Fasting: The focus seems to be on giving up something for Lent, like chocolate, sodas, or smoking to name a few. I have been guilty of giving up soft drinks and checking off the box for fasting during Lent. Then for the next 40 days I dreamed of hearing the Alleluia’s at Mass on Easter Sunday which signaled the day that I could pop-a-top and hear the fizz of the soda and experience the feeling of being reunited with a long-lost friend. My point here is, did my fasting draw me closer to God or did it just put the focus on when I could again enjoy a soda? Don’t get me wrong, self-denial can certainly be a good practice, we just need to make sure we get it within the context of our spiritual growth. Perhaps we can benefit from fasting from gossip, negativity, social media, or, as Pope Francis suggested a few years ago, we can fast from indifference towards others.
Almsgiving: Now would be a good time to go through our closets of excess to share with those who are in need. Help to restock local food pantries. Pick a charity or organization to donate to (if fasting from eating out in a restaurant then use that money) or pick up a rice bowl from your parish to contribute to the less fortunate. Sr. Jacinta and I, while ministering in Memphis, TN, would prepare a meal, from a third world country recipe that was listed in the rice bowl, each week during Lent as a practice of fasting and almsgiving. This also brought us a global perspective about the vast difference in food consumption in other countries compared to that in the United States. Go to http://www.crsricebowl.org/ for more information about the rice bowl from Catholic Relief Services.
Whatever you do to grow and change this Lent, whether giving up things or adding spiritual practices to your day, may you approach it with an open mind and heart…you are not in competition with another person…instead you are using this time to blossom into the best you and deepen your relationship with God.
Visit the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website for a calendar listing ideas to inspire your Lenten journey.