On Ash Wednesday Lent will once again be upon us. Reading about how other Catholics observe the Lenten season helps me to dig deeper into my spiritual life. I hope this article serves such a purpose for you.
Lent is a crucial time for us. It’s not easy being a Catholic Christian because we are obliged to certain duties, Holy duties if you will, and it is during the Lenten season that we are called upon to renew our baptismal commitment. As His Holiness Pope Francis said in his message for Lent 2017:
“Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts” (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, he patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, he shows us his readiness to forgive (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).
“Lent is a favourable season for deepening our spiritual life through the means of sanctification offered us by the Church: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. At the basis of everything is the word of God, which during this season we are invited to hear and ponder more deeply.”
Lenten practices vary for each person but penitence is common to most practices. One person may decide to give up desserts for forty days, and another may give up an entire meal every day. Others may not sacrifice anything at all, but instead add some sort of penitential practice to their daily routine, such as extra prayer time while kneeling on a hard floor. Perhaps volunteering for a certain organization is more spiritually rewarding. Whatever it may be, it should deepen our own spirituality and be of service to God
For example, this Lent I have decided to take on extra prayers each day. I will be saying the Angelus at 6 am, 12 pm, and 6 pm. I also plan on going to daily Mass with my young children. This serves God because I am raising His disciples and my example to them must be in His image. I am also including rigorous daily exercise. This also serves Him because it reminds me of His great and painful sacrifice on the cross. After forty days, I hope that these penances will become regular habits. That is my encouragement for you.
Focus on a penance that is important in your life right now. Let God permeate every aspect of your decision making. The USCCB website has a wonderful page on Lent with links to various “Lent Resources” that include a page called “Penitential Practices for Today’s Catholics.” As pointed out on that page, “Penitential practices take many forms: apologizing to an injured party, healing divisions within our families, fasting during the Lenten season, or graciously accepting the menial tasks of life. The purpose of penance is not to diminish life but to enrich it.”
Another good (and even amusing!) ‘primer’ on Lent is an eight-minute video by Father Mike Schmitz. The video is entitled, appropriately, “Preparing for Lent.” (Father Mike Schmitz is the chaplain for Newman Catholic Campus Ministries at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He also serves as the Director of the Office of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth. He has also done over 100 short videos for “Ascension Presents” on faith, pop culture, and headline reflections.)
I also encourage you to share your Lenten journey with others. Go to morning Mass on Ash Wednesday, March 1. Wear your ashes all day, if possible, and explain the importance of your faith to those who ask about their significance. I always get questions about mine and my children love to compare how long their ashes remain on their foreheads!
In what special ways can you recognize Lent?
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