Those of us “cradle Catholics” might remember being asked by our families or in our Religious education classes, “And what will you be giving up for Lent?” Perhaps we chose our favorite candy (I tried in vain for many years to give up chocolate!), snack, or even toy – all good efforts for children, indeed. As adults in both age and in the faith, there are many more ways to engage more deeply with the spirit of sacrifice which characterizes this season of Lent.
The three traditional practices of Lent are Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. This blog will suggest a few varieties of each practice, and we invite you to share recommendations of your own!
The Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection, usually used to review one’s day, in order to better detect the presence of God and discern God’s direction and desire for us. It is adapted from the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola. It can be done at any point, usually at the very beginning of the day (reflecting on the day prior) or at night, after the events of the day have concluded.
Daily Mass/Eucharistic Adoration
Our parishes offer daily Mass at a variety of times, and many parishes now offer weekly Eucharistic Adoration, if they do not have a designated chapel for the Blessed Sacrament. Why not take a few moments each day or week to spend some time with Jesus? It is also a meaningful time to integrate some of the other prayer practices of our Church while in the presence of the Eucharist.
Lectio Divina is the personal or communal reading of Scripture, done in different stages involving reading, meditation on the readings, prayer, and contemplation (with hearty doses of silence). This ancient prayer practice can break open the Word of God in a new way for you this Lent.
Many organizations offer daily Lenten reflections, which can be sent directly to your email each day, or are available on their websites/social media pages. You can also purchase books of Lenten reflections, which can be read each day.
How much time have you spent reading – really reading – Scripture? Reading the Sunday readings in advance is a great way to position yourself to be more open to what is proclaimed, as well as what is said in the homily, which connects the readings to our lived experiences. Another suggestion is to commit to reading a whole book of the Bible (such as the Gospel of Mark) during Lent.
Many of us are reticent to admit the last time we went to Confession. It is simply something for which we do not always make the time. However, the Lenten season of repentance is a perfect time to draw closer to the Lord and seek God’s forgiveness, which manifests itself in the cross. Check your parish website or bulletin for information on the times when Confession is available.
This sacred prayer practice of the Church is one which has connected generations of Catholics to our Blessed Mother. Praying the rosary can be soothing, empowering, soulful, and joyful – and is described by many popes and saints as a powerful safeguard against sin, the devil, and all despair. Take the time during Lent to meditate especially on the Sorrowful Mysteries, which focus on Christ’s passion.
Small Faith-Sharing Group
Joining a small faith-sharing group (or starting one, if you parish does not currently have them) can be a very special addition to your prayer life during Lent. The sense of mutual support as you pray, learn, and grow in community will certainly help sustain you. Groups can be organized by gender, vocation, ministry, interest (such as social justice), or even by stages of life (such as young parents or retirees).
“40 for 40”: Donating Daily
This has become a fairly “trendy” option for a Lenten practice as of late: each day, you donate at least 1 item in your home. It serves the dual purpose of decluttering and giving back. Some sources even suggest 1 bag of clothing per day, or even 40 items per day (for the extreme among us!). Take it a step further by not only decluttering your home, but infusing that act with prayer: invite God to declutter your heart.
Learn, Give, Engage
Make a point to learn more about a particular issue of justice (such as immigration, human trafficking, the environment, racism, homelessness, etc.). The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and its sub-organization, Catholic Campaign for Human Development, as well as Catholic Relief Services, are all great resources for educating yourself on what the Church teaches on such matters of justice, and how you can get involved. Of course, there are many outstanding, faithful organizations out there doing extraordinary work to make our world more just and equitable, and they are always in need of our time, talents, and treasures.
Works of Mercy
Read Matthew 25: 31-46, where Jesus outlines what are known as the Corporal Works of Mercy. Choose one that you will make your own and perform subsequent acts of service throughout Lent.
An Attitude of Gratitude
Finally, there is no better practice – in Lent or beyond – than committing to being profoundly grateful. Even in the darkest of times, gratitude can be the spark which sets the flame of hope alight – and we are challenged to “always be prepared to give a reason for [our] hope” (1 Peter 3:15). Never forget: a grateful heart is a magnet for miracles.
Still prefer to give up something? Instead of candy or soda, try giving up...
...Excessive spending. (Whether it is eating out unnecessarily, or that online shopping when you’re bored, curbing your spending can be a time to reflect on the blessings you have, and how little you actually need.)
...Gossiping. (Pope Francis often speaks out against gossip as “poison” and “divisive,” and unfortunately we all slide into this habit on occasion.)
...Meat on more than just Fridays. (Going meatless even once a week can help reduce our carbon footprint, greenhouse gases, and fuel dependence, and minimize water usage – not to mention the personal health benefits.)
What are some of your Lenten practices? Share with us on our Facebook and Twitter!