Anything worth doing, is worth doing well, or so the saying goes. Therefore, if we are going to try to make something of our Lenten observance, we should consider now, what will bring us closer to our Beloved Savior, and not leave to chance, what a well thought-out plan can do to help us make the best of this most beautiful, penitential time of the Church.
If we are going to commit ourselves to getting the most out of Lent, then we must first recall what is the purpose of this period of Lent, and how might we fulfill this purpose in a way that is unique to the needs of our individual souls, as well as to the world at large. Scripturally speaking, prayer, fasting and almsgiving are an ideal means for obtaining closer union with our Creator, and they make a great place to start in our consideration of how we might rejuvenate our prayer life, enlivening or strengthening our faith and the practice thereof.
Let’s begin with prayer. How can we pray more? Is it merely a matter of time for you? Has setting aside daily time solely for God been lacking in your life lately? Consider scheduling God into your life, by getting up earlier, staying up later or giving up something that takes time away from Him. If you endeavor to keep this daily appointment with God, you may well find that this habit of conversing with Him becomes one you will never give up, even long after Lent is over.
How can we enrich our souls by praying differently? Are you someone who has set prayers to recite? Maybe your prayer is more about you talking at God and never letting Him get a word in edgewise? Would some time in silence benefit your relationship with the Lord, giving Him the chance to minister to your soul and bring you peace? Spending time in silence in front of the Blessed Sacrament is always a good idea. Or maybe you are someone who would benefit from praying some of the Liturgy of the Hours or adding more of the ‘hours’ to your prayer life? The Office of Readings is a great way to read scripture every day, and to also read a page or two from the writings of the Fathers of our Church. If you don’t have the books to do this, you can find the prayers online here. Maybe you are so busy, that the best you can do some days is to make your work a prayer? Endeavor to live every moment of your life in the presence of God, by keeping Him on your mind as you work and offering your work and daily chores to Him for all of His (and your) intentions.
What about spiritual practices like going to confession and attending daily Mass? Receiving the Eucharist is food for the soul, and what better time to feed your hungry soul with a little more ‘soul food,’than in the days leading up to the commemoration of the ultimate sacrifice of our beloved Jesus, when he literally gave His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity for our salvation. And speaking of the ultimate sacrifice, how about attending the Stations of the Cross at your parish? Maybe find a companion book or booklet on the stations, and spend time meditating on the Way of the Cross and what each step means to your life. If you are looking for some inspiration for your meditations, you can find Blessed Anna Catherine Emmerich’s ‘Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ,’free online here.
Fasting is another great tool for tuning up your prayer life and growing closer to the Lord. The Church asks us to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but you might be surprised to see what happens in your spiritual life, when you add another day, here and there. Giving up the daily comfort of so much food, actually draws your heart and mind to thoughts of God, and He always blesses this small sacrifice in ways far beyond what we give.
Fasting could also be fasting for the duration of Lent on just one thing that you really like. Many people fast from eating sweets or drinking coffee, things like that. But you could also fast from doing something you like, for instance, giving up TV or computer games or Facebook. Ever time you think of doing the thing you’ve given up or you miss doing it, your mind is immediately directed to Jesus, the reason for your sacrifice. It may seem small, but every glance toward heaven is a step closer to the ultimate Lover of our souls.
Fasting also gives us extra time for something else. If we give up something that takes too much of our time and is not good for moving us closer to God, we can replace that thing with something that brings us greater understanding, such as reading scripture and spiritual books, listening to uplifting podcasts or CDs on faith issues, spending time in adoration or whatever helps you, as a unique child of God, to bring you in to closer union with Father, Son and holy Spirit.
Finally, we consider almsgiving. Most people consider almsgiving as a matter of giving freely to support the poor. But there is more to it than that. Perhaps you can consider the works of mercy and give to the poor in other ways you have never thought of trying. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison or in hospital are just a few of the things you can do to bring Jesus to the most vulnerable. Giving money is one thing, but giving of yourself is entirely different, and we should be doing it every day. Maybe someone in your own family is living in a poverty of spirit that could really benefit from your presence, easing their lonliness. Maybe you have an idea for reaching out to people in your local nursing home. Maybe this Lent will be the time when we offer ourselves to the One who offered Himself, by giving of ourselves in greater and more meaningful ways.
Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ MATTHEW 25:37-40
Let’s make this the best Lent of our lives and be truly ready to welcome our Risen Lord when Easter comes and we can at last proclaim, He is risen! He is risen indeed.