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LOOKING FORWARD TO LENT

It might seem strange to think of the most penitential season in the Church with excitement, but here’s why I have come to love Lent.


OPENING DISCUSSION

  • What are your thoughts on Lent? Do you like it? Hate it? Are you indifferent?

  • What does Lent make you think of?

  • What are some of your past memories of Lent? (Could include sacrifices & such.)

  • Are you looking forward to Lent this year? Why or why not?

WHAT IS LENT?

Before we talk about why Lent is so great (or at least why I think so), we should start by making sure we know what Lent is. First, Lent is one of the liturgical seasons in the Catholic Church. There are six seasons total: Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent, Triduum, and Easter. Lent is the fourth season and usually falls on a different day every year, sometimes in February and occasionally in March. However, it always begins on a Wednesday, known as “Ash Wednesday,” when we receive ashes to symbolize that we are nothing without God (literally, dust). This year (2023), Lent begins TOMORROW, February 22, and ends at sundown on Thursday, April 6th (Holy Thursday, the beginning of the Triduum).


In short, Lent is a 40-day season where the Christian faithful are called to prepare in three particular ways for the celebration of Christ’s victory over sin and death at Easter. Those three ways are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.


PRAYER

This section may seem like a no-brainer, but a lot of people only think about the “fasting” aspect of Lent. Growing up, it was common at my Catholic grade school for a teacher to ask the class, “What are you giving up for Lent?,” and end there. While I’m not saying don’t give up chocolate (we’ll get to that next), there’s a lot more to Lent than that.


During Lent, we first seek the Lord in prayer because it is the primary source of our relationship with Him. This is because prayer is literally communion with God, the source of all happiness; when we are in true prayer, we are speaking to and listening to God. This could be in silence, in song, through journaling, or many other ways. If you do nothing else for Lent, I encourage you to make one realistic prayer resolution for yourself, as this will bring you closer to the Lord than anything else.


One great way to communicate with God is through Sacred Scripture, so it is especially fitting during Lent to spend time reading the Bible. There’s an app called The Bible: YouVersion (pictured below) that gives you access to Scripture anytime, anywhere. (I recommend setting it to the “New American Bible, revised edition.” This translation includes the deuterocanonical books, which Catholics include but aren’t found in all Christian denominations/Bible translations.)


In case you’re not sure where to start, here are some ideas for how to incorporate prayer into your life this Lent. (Note: I don’t recommend more than one; the simpler, the better.)

  1. Read one chapter of the Bible each day, calling on the Holy Spirit to show you what He’s trying to speak to you. Highlight any verses that stand out, then ask the Lord what He’s saying to you through them. Write down what He says.

  2. Choose one book of the Bible to read for Lent. When you’re finished, go to adoration and ask God what He wants you to take away from that book. Record the lessons in your Bible and/or journal and share them with a friend after Lent.

  3. Listen to an episode of The Bible in a Year Podcast by Fr. Mike Schmitz every day.

  4. If you’re not in the habit of praying the Rosary regularly, pray a decade daily during Lent. By Easter, you’ll have prayed at least one whole Rosary a week!

  5. Ask the Lord if there’s a Saint He’d like you to learn more about. If He points someone out to you, make it your goal to read a book about that Saint for Lent.

  6. The Stations of the Cross are a great way to pray during Lent, especially on Fridays, the day we recall the Lord’s Passion. Make it your goal to pray the Stations every Friday of Lent, whether alone or with family and friends.

  7. Sign up to go to adoration once a week.

  8. Attend daily Mass more often.

  9. If you don’t always go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, make it your resolution to attend every required Mass during Lent. (If you’ve missed Mass at any point, make sure you go to Confession before receiving communion again.)

  10. Go to Confession at least once during Lent. (This is a good goal for every Catholic.) For a guide on how to go to confession, see the National Catholic Register website.

FASTING

Okay, now we can talk about chocolate - but let’s get one thing straight. Lent is NOT a diet or something equally vain. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to live a healthier lifestyle and take good care of our bodies, that’s not the point of fasting. The purpose of this ancient practice is self-control: specifically, in times of temptation. This means that, if you give up chocolate, it’s not to lose weight or look a different way; it’s to help strengthen your self-control to say no to sins you struggle with, like maybe talking bad about people, watching inappropriate TV, or whatever it is. Practicing saying no to good things when we don’t have to helps us say no to bad things when they arise.


It’s important to note there are different forms of fasting. The most common kind is fasting from food. There are certain required food-related fasts during Lent, so let’s look at those first:

  1. Ash Wednesday & Good Friday: Fasting AND abstinence.

  2. All Fridays of Lent (unless it’s a solemnity): Abstinence only.

With this type of fasting, a person can eat one full meal and two smaller meals that together do not equal one full meal. This is mandatory for anyone ages 18-59 (though health conditions could affect this). Abstinence means not eating meat and is required from age 14 up. However, these practices don’t have to focus on ages; if someone younger or older is able to participate in them, doing so will help strengthen their will and make them more like Jesus (who fasted Himself, as we read in Scripture).


Now let’s look at ideas for what you could do for your personal Lenten fast. These could pertain to food or any good thing, such as:

  1. Not using butter on your toast.

  2. Only using social media on Sundays.

  3. Giving up takeout and putting the money toward charity instead.

  4. Not eating the last bite of your food.

  5. Not playing music in the car (or only playing Christian songs).

The following fasts aren’t exactly the standard, since they’re bad things we shouldn’t do anyway, but these sorts of fasts have been really helpful for me over the years:

  1. Not hitting “Snooze.”

  2. Giving up gossip.

  3. Refraining from cussing/taking God’s name in vain.

  4. Not making negative comments about yourself.

  5. Giving up complaining.

ALMSGIVING

Lastly, the least-understood Lenten practice (though it’s quite simple). “Alms” means money or food given to the poor; so, in Lent, this means we’re called to sacrifice in some way for those in need. Not only that, but we’re called to go above and beyond how we might already give in this way. For instance, if you donate a certain amount of money to your parish and to charity each month, that wouldn’t count as your Lenten almsgiving component; making an additional contribution could, though.


Another aspect of almsgiving is performing acts of charity, or going out into the community and serving others. Again, if this is something you already do (like volunteering at a soup kitchen every week), then it might not really count. However, if you aren’t currently serving regularly, beginning to do so this Lent would be a great way to give alms.


Here are some other ideas for how you could give alms this Lenten season:

  1. If you’re a student required to do service hours, offer to stay an extra hour at your service site and don’t record that hour.

  2. Participate in Operation Rice Bowl.

  3. Choose a charity that is close to your heart and make a donation to them (one that is above a normal amount for you).

  4. Spend time with someone in your family you normally wouldn’t.

  5. Reach out to a friend you know has been struggling and ask how they’re doing. Ask how they could use prayers, and offer to pray for them each day during Lent.

SEEK THE LORD

Spend five to ten minutes in prayer sometime between now and the start of Lent. If possible, go to a local adoration chapel and enter into the Eucharistic presence of the Lord; I find He speaks the most clearly to me in these places. Ask Him to send out His Spirit and enlighten your mind with the ways in which He is inviting you to grow closer to Him this Lent. Ask Him to be very specific. Write whatever He tells you in a journal (and then, as Mama Mary would say, do whatever it is!).


CLOSING DISCUSSION (optional)

  • After reflecting more on Lent and spending time in prayer, have your thoughts on this liturgical season changed at all? Why or why not?

  • Would anyone like to share what they plan to do for Lent?

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