Today is Ash Wednesday, the traditional beginning of Lent, the penitential season that prepares us for a joyous celebration of Easter. Lent is a great season for cooperating with God’s grace by forming a plan for spiritual growth. It might be helpful to choose a Lenten penance or spiritual exercise that will help us to grow spiritually, to become a better person and a more dedicated Christian by the time we celebrate the resurrection on Easter. Based on the Ash Wednesday Gospel, Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18, we traditionally talk about three types of Lenten practices: almsgiving, prayer and fasting.
Let us imagine ways of making almsgiving, which includes all types of charitable deeds, a more effective instrument of continued spiritual growth. Parishioners who give generously to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development could make use of the Campaign’s educational materials to learn more about the root causes of poverty in our affluent country. Parishioners who donate food bags for the hungry could volunteer to serve meals at a food distribution center. A financially secure family could adopt a family in need and offer needed assistance throughout the year.
Prayer, both liturgical and private, is a gift of God that requires our cooperation. Let us consider ways we can deepen our prayer life during the Lenten season and beyond. Liturgically, those who attend Mass sporadically could use Lent to get into the habit of going regularly. Those who usually go on Sundays could improve their participation in various ways: for example, spending time before Mass reflecting on the scripture readings; offering to God at the Offertory a specific personal struggle such as overcoming an addiction or bad habit; choosing one particular lesson from the Liturgy of the Word to practice during the week, such as being more charitable to friends and family members.
Lent also offers an opportunity to improve our private prayer life; for example, setting time aside each day for prayer; spending more time silently listening to God; saying more prayers of praise and thanksgiving along with petitions; saying brief prayers throughout the day bringing God’s abiding presence to mind.
Fasting which includes all forms of voluntary renunciation, is a traditional Lenten practice. Instead of giving up what we most crave, like desserts or cigarettes or alcohol, we could fast from something as part of a plan to develop better enduring habits; for instance, giving up a favorite food as part of a plan to develop a healthier diet; limiting time watching television to spend more time in prayer and meditation; spending less money shopping in order to increase charitable giving; limiting time on social media in order to develop better face-to-face communication skills; avoiding gossip in order to become a more charitable person; and fasting from harsh political rhetoric as a way of becoming a better citizen.
What specific Lenten practice is most likely to help me become a more faithful Christian?