Lent begins on Wednesday, ready or not. Now remember, Lent is not a “Catholic self-help program.” It is not about “bettering yourself.” It is about glorifying God; entering into relationship with Jesus Christ as we enter into His Passion, Death, and Resurrection; it is about living for God. This is why the Church has given us three time-tested practices for Lent, and I would like to share a bit about them here.
1. Prayer. It is a MUST in the Christian life. St. Alphonsus once said, quite bluntly, “If you pray, you will surely be saved. If you do not, you will surely be damned.” Simple as that, folks! So, what does your prayer life look like right now? Do you pray? When and how much? Alone or with family? Is it from the heart, or simply mindless recitation so as to fulfill obligation? Do you pray for people when you have promised to do so? Remember in all of this that prayer is a dialog: an intimate conversation with God Who loves us most, as St. Teresa put it. Your prayer, then, doesn’t always have to be set formulae (though those are good too!), but can be a conversation with God as though with a friend. Regular confession certainly fits into a good prayer routine.
2. Fasting. This is the self-denial we most fear. Sure we can take up prayer perhaps, even if it means sacrificing our time. But giving up food, sleep, technology?? Come now, Father, that seems a bit much in this modern age. BOLOGNA! The Son of God made Man fast for forty days in the desert, had nowhere to lay His head, went nights without sleep, and more (including, you know, dying on the Cross…), all so we could follow His example and enter into the graces He won for us there. By entering into self-denial, by giving up some lawful pleasure for the sake of God and to help curb the passions of our souls, we become like Jesus. Or rather, He makes us like Him. This is a concrete way to take up the Cross and follow Christ. So, what do you need to give up? Do you eat too much? Drink too much? Spend too much time on the computer or phone or tablet? Perhaps you oversleep. Whatever it is, pray about it and ask God how you should go about curbing those desires. A note: sometimes we hear “don’t give something up, take something up!” This usually means practicing some virtue, doing good deeds. Fine. Do that, but also give something up. We are so weak in modern day, and any type of fasting, even though it hurts a bit, is good. It is the Cross. And we cannot reach heaven without the Cross, my friends. But Christ was on the Cross. We can meet Him there.
3. Almsgiving. The giving of money or aid to those who need it. Doing good deeds “that [others] may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt. 5:16). Notice here, this isn’t about self-congratulations. It isn’t about looking good for others to see. This is about giving glory to God, which should be the primary motivating factor for everything in our lives. Even more so, this helps others to give glory to God! It is all around good, if we don’t have selfish motives. So, give some money to the poor, help out at the food pantry, or some similar thing. Spend time with those who are lonely. Remember it is a precept of the Church to support the Church, and that includes with ourselves, our time, and with our money. This applies to priests too! A helpful way to know what to do is to look at the works of mercy. The spiritual ones are: counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, admonishing the sinner, comforting the sorrowful, forgiving injuries, bearing wrongs patiently, and praying for the living and the dead. The corporal ones are: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, giving shelter to travelers, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, and burying the dead. Do any of those speak to you? Pray about it, and see which God might be asking you to do.
May our time of preparation for Lent be fruitful, that our Lent may be as well. Let us pray for one another. God bless you!