Consider me strange, but I am actually looking forward to the beginning of Lent. I see it as a special time to be introspective, to think about where I am right now in my relationship with Jesus, and to attempt to make some positive changes that I hope will result in a growth in holiness.
Traditionally, the practices recommended during this season are prayer, fasting and almsgiving (charity).
How can I pray better? I can begin by finding and keeping a set time each day to pray. (My own preference is praying with the Blessed Sacrament.) I also should be reading and reflecting daily on the Sacred Scriptures, perhaps praying the Rosary, making the Stations of the Cross or reading an inspiring Catholic book regularly. When I am driving in the car, I also like to put on a Catholic CD to listen to an inspirational talk—which, by the way, we have available in the vestibule of the church. (Maybe you can begin by listening to that CD by Matthew Kelly that we gave to every family at Christmas, if you haven’t done so already!) It certainly beats the garbage that we often find on the radio.
Fasting includes food but should go beyond simply not eating. The only two fast days (one simple meal) required by the Church during Lent are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent are also days of abstinence (no meat). However, we can also fast from things like the TV, the computer/internet, video games, the radio, from smoking or drinking, from superfluous shopping, etc. In essence, we can do without--self-denial--and try to incorporate into our lives something more spiritually beneficial.
How charitable am I? Do I regularly contribute to and support my church? Did I make a contribution to the House of Charity appeal? Do I have some other favorite charity to which I give? Do I volunteer my time or my skills to help others without seeking compensation or recognition? Do I visit and help the sick or the elderly? Do I volunteer at the hospital? Do I think of others more than myself?
The practices that I observe for Lent can really become an opportunity to change my way of living. I can incorporate more permanently various ways of behaving that open my heart and my life more completely to God. I can turn my life over to Jesus and take up my cross daily and follow Him. (See Luke 9:23)
I realize that I am a sinner continually in need of the mercy of God. Like all humans (except Jesus and Mary, of course!), my life has not been without sin. I am not proud of this. Therefore, I should seriously consider some acts of penance during Lent in reparation for my sins. Making a thorough, heartfelt sacramental confession is a good way to start.
We should be spiritually mature enough to realize that the more we keep trying and letting God control our lives, the more we open ourselves to His grace of conversion. Conversion is a lifelong process of turning away from sin and turning towards the Gospel message.
On Ash Wednesday, when the ashes were placed on our foreheads, did we actually intend to change, or was this just an act of empty show? Only God knows what’s in our hearts and how much we really do love Him.
Please make this Lent a time of deep, spiritual conversion.
Fr. Ed Namiotka