Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It’s hard to believe, but Lent begins in only a few days on Ash Wednesday. We usher in this austere but beautiful time of the year with those challenging words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We recall that we are living for something beyond this life, that we are mortal, that we are burdened by sins that cry out for a redeemer to rescue us from eternal death. We take these forty days to unite ourselves with our Lord in the desert, undertaking practices of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving to prepare for Holy Week. Are we ready?
One of the expressions that seems to be becoming more and more common today, is something like, “Don’t give something up, just try to do something nice instead.” Perhaps in the face of so many who give something up just to test their will power (or to lose some weight), some are seeing the pharisaical side of fasting. They are heeding those words of the Lord, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” But at the same time, we know the Lord did fast himself, and he said to his apostles who failed to cast out an evil spirit, “But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.” Fasting is an essential part of our spiritual lives, especially during Lent, so the Church envisions that we don’t just pick one thing, but try to grow in fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.
I hope each of us therefore looks into our hearts, finds our weaknesses and attachments, and takes advantage of the grace-filled season of Lent to make leaps and bounds in our spiritual lives. Especially through fasting and denying ourselves things we think we need, but don’t really need, we can find an incredible amount of room in our lives for other things that bring us closer to God. I’ll offer some ideas that might be of value:
Fasting: We can cut out time on the internet and cell phones, watching TV and movies, following the news and social media. We can give up music and find more time for silence. We can cut out sweets and dessert foods, unhealthy drinks and alcohol, meat or other foods that we eat very often. We can spend less on unnecessary purchases or eating at restaurants rather than home. We can take cold showers or avoid making our environment perfectly comfortable. We can choose a vice we struggle with – impatience, ingratitude, unforgiveness, impurity, dishonesty, envy, gossip, anger – and strive each day to avoid them.
Prayer: Especially with the added time we get from cutting things out above, we can spend a few more minutes in silence each day for prayer. We can pray a rosary or a divine mercy chaplet. We can stop in the Church on Monday for adoration from 12:30-8PM. We can go to daily Mass at 8:30AM or 12:05PM. We can choose a spiritual book or two to read. We can watch spiritual content on FORMED or Youtube or listen to a Catholic Podcast. We can attend the many special events in the parish like the Holy Hours (February 27th and March 25th at 7:30PM) or the parish mission (which will be led by Monsignor Fink on March 9th, 10th, and 11th at 7:30PM).
Almsgiving: Saving money on certain indulgences, we can give more to the poor or the Church. Saving time we can have more time for others. We can reach out to a lonely family member or friend, even writing letters to express our appreciation. We can volunteer, particularly here in our parish with programs like Families Giving Back (all are welcome!). We can go through our possessions and give some to the needy. We can try to be more charitable in how we speak of others. We can try to do even one act of kindness each day.
This Lent, let’s not just choose one easy thing, but let’s try to grow in all three of these areas, challenging ourselves beyond where we might even think we’re capable. If Lent is truly difficult, if we truly give it our all, yes we will feel a small portion of the pain of the cross on Good Friday, but if will pale in comparison to the incredible joy we will find on Easter Sunday.
Yours in Christ,