“What are you giving up for Lent?”
I have been asked this question many times in my life. I think very carefully before I respond. An easy answer would be to say something like chocolate, desserts or soda. Case closed. Many would be satisfied with this response. In my opinion, however, it seems that we need to look beyond this question to something deeper and more profound: How can I be changed for the better by my observance of Lent?
The Gospel reading of Ash Wednesday (Mt. 6:1-6, 16-18) reminds us of three traditional practices of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Lent should be a time for increased prayer. When I first began seeking his direction and guidance, my spiritual director at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary asked me to describe for him how I pray. For most people, including me, this is a very personal request. That’s between God and me! You are now invading my personal space!
How do I pray? (I will reluctantly let you have a glimpse at my inner sanctuary. Please keep this between you and me!)
It depends. Some elements are part of my daily routine. My most important prayer each day is the Mass. I deliberately try to pray the Mass. Over time Mass can sometimes become very routine for priests (and laity alike). Priests (and laity) can consciously or unconsciously just go through the motions and simply read the words that are printed in the Roman Missal. (Granted, it’s much less likely now that the words have recently changed and we need to be very meticulous!) To pray the Mass is deliberate and intentional. It involves an act of the will and a conscious effort. It requires concentration.
I also pray my Liturgy of the Hours—a series of psalms, Scripture readings, intercessions and formal prayers—intended to sanctify the various hours of the day. Additionally, my personal goal is to include a rosary, some spiritual reading, and time before the Blessed Sacrament each day. As various times in my life I have been drawn to centering prayer (a doorway to contemplation), charismatic prayer, devotional prayer (novenas, Stations of the Cross, rosary, etc.), intercessory prayer, meditation, and to whatever else the Holy Spirit leads me at any given time. Frequently I talk to God from the heart. Prayer is the means by which I hope to seek out God’s will, to know Him better and to be united with Him one day. Increasingly, it has become for me a time to be quiet and simply to listen to God. Despite all of the busyness of life, Lent should include time for increased prayer.
Fasting involves self denial—food or otherwise. In addition to not eating certain items that we may enjoy, we can “give up” watching TV, frivolous time on the computer, unnecessary shopping, music in the car, going out to dinner, and various other things that not only teach us some discipline and self-sacrifice but may free us up for more time for God and prayer. Two official fast days (from food) of Lent are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Almsgiving is a reminder for all of us to be charitable—with our money, of course—but also with our talents and with our time. What we do not spend frivolously on shopping, we can give to a personal charity. What we save by going out less for dinner and eating a simple meal at home, we can use to send a gift or flowers to an elderly homebound person to let him or her know that he or she is still loved. We can also volunteer our time at church, in some civic organization, with a youth group or for some charitable cause. We can use the skills of our profession or trade pro bono.
What am I giving up for Lent?
What am I giving up for Lent?
This question is much too simplistic. (And you might be sorry that you asked me!)
Fr. Ed Namiotka