As a Lenten discipline, I’m hoping to write a bit more. Here is the first of such efforts.
During the season of Lent, Christians are called to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In the Gospel appointed for Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18), Jesus admonishes his disciples, saying, “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.” Often, we make Lenten resolutions that are broken rather quickly and the point of the spiritual journey of Lent is lost. If you fall down, get back up. Don’t let a slip up throw you off course. We’re not saints. Some of these suggestions are things that can done with friends and family, and most, if not all of them can be done on your own.
Prayer: “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” Attend daily Mass, even if it’s but once a week. Pray the Rosary during your commute. Read the Bible. Pray the Stations of the Cross. Recite the Divine Office. Go to confession. Spend ten minutes each day in quiet prayer and meditation.
Fasting: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of universal fast, but we need not limit fasting to the minimum requirements. “When you fast, do not look gloomy.” I once read in a Lenten sermon, “Forget the bit about doing without sugar in your coffee. That isn’t an act of penitent self-denial: it merely spoils a decent cup of coffee!” Find the areas in your daily routine where you can strip down. Fast from something that is a vice in your life: perhaps it’s Facebook or Twitter, Netflix binging, or too much television. In its place, create a virtue: use the time that you would spend on your smartphone or in front of the computer to read a book or spend quality time with a friend or loved one, either in person or talking (not texting!) on the telephone.
Almsgiving: “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret.” Not all almsgiving has to be a financial sacrifice. There are countless opportunities for volunteer service. Consider volunteering with a charity or spend an afternoon at a soup kitchen. Prepare a home cooked meal for a homeless shelter. In your parish, volunteer for a ministry. If you want to make a financial offering, think about the poor, those in our country who have been displaced by a natural disaster, or immigrants and refugees in need of assistance. Make a difference.
If we do just one thing in each category throughout the season of Lent, we will reap the benefits of this spiritual practice and grow in holiness. “And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”