A poignant reminder that our earthly life is but a fleeting moment in time and we are just sojourners. With that, the priest, deacon or minister, marks each faithful with the sign of the cross in ashes across the forehead and thus we begin the Lenten Season.
As most Christians know, Lent is the 40-day period (46, if you include Sundays) of preparation for Easter Sunday, where we are called to repent and spiritually grow closer to God through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and asceticism, including fasting and abstinence on certain days.
In his homily on Lent, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski writes:
Saying “no” to ourselves through some type of fasting and almsgiving during Lent, saying “no” to habits of sin by going to confession this Lent, is all about helping us say “yes” to God, “yes” to his mercy and compassion, “yes” to his plan for our lives — which is that we be delivered from the slavery of sin and receive the promise of the new life of grace.It’s funny, even during my heathen years (which started in high school and lasted into my 40’s), when I wasn’t exactly practicing my faith, I still used to observe Lent, at least the penitence part of the tradition, mostly on self-serving sacrifices like giving up dessert, fried food or alcohol.
Several years ago, after a re-awakening of my faith, I realized that the purpose of Lent is to grow closer to Christ by correcting ill ways, asking for forgiveness and putting Him at the center of my existence. So, if giving up candy is not making me achieve this, then I was just wasting my time.
The reason to make a sacrifice is to unite ourselves to Christ’s ultimate sacrifice. In other words, it’s about love. He gave His life for me; the least I can do is give up French fries for Him, not because I want to eat healthier or behave better but because I love Christ.
So, as we start another Lenten Season today, an article on National Catholic Register gives forty useful suggestions of things we may want to consider. Among them:
• Forgive/reunite with an estranged family member or friend.
• Visit an ailing relative or friend.
• Cultivate silence. Turn off the iPod and DVD player. Shut off talk radio in the car. Hide the remote control.
• Husbands, pray with your wives. Wives, pray with your husbands. (Let your young children see you praying together)
• Moms and dads, pray with your children — not just at meal times.
• Reach out to someone you don’t get along with and do something positive.
• Receive the sacrament of confession on a regular basis — a habit to make, not break.
• Spend less time on Facebook, or help your friends by posting or promoting more spiritually inspiring material.
• Spend a Saturday volunteering someplace you’ve never helped before.
• Commit to five to 30 minutes of mental prayer every day.
• Check in with a local retirement home and find out who has not had any visitors for a while. And visit.
• Meditate on the last four things: death, judgment, heaven and hell.
This year, I have an ambitious list of things that I plan to implement to help me prepare. They include: 1) Re-igniting my daily morning Mass attendance. I have been slacking off for several months. 2) Pick up where I left off last year in the Old Testament and read at least 15 minutes each morning. 3) Fasting on Fridays throughout Lent. The Church only requires fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstinence from meat on Fridays but I want to take it a step further. 4) Intensify my prayer life. Prayer is what transformed my faith but I have been lackadaisical in recent weeks.
As for the family: 1) After dinner, read the life of a saint with my kids. It's a way of re-enforcing a life of virtue. 2) Movie night once a week with the family to watch a faith based film. It worked well for us last Lent and I plan on implementing it again. 3) Pray with them every night before they go to sleep. I usually bless them but haven't been praying as much as I should recently.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a very useful internet site with daily reflections and suggestions to help Christians fruitfully prepare for Easter Sunday.
How do you plan to get ready?