The 40 days of Lent are rapidly approaching and now is the time to be thinking about personal plans for this holy season. For me it is often difficult to decide what I will do and/or what I will give up this Lenten season to prepare for Easter. Whatever I decide, I see it as a way to strengthen my faith during this time. It is a good idea to write the plan on paper so as to commit to it more fully. I also glance at it often to remind myself of my commitment.
On Ash Wednesday at Mass, we will hear the priest say in the Collect Prayer a the beginning “Grant, O Lord, that, we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian Service, so that, as we take up the battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. “
The plan for the Lenten Season should contain 3 things; Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving.
PRAYER: A good way to approach prayer during this season is to attend daily Mass. In a parish I was in years ago parishioners were encouraged to join ‘The 40 Club’ which was attending Mass each of the 40 days of Lent. Today, this is often not possible, particularly with those who work during the day but finding a noon Mass near a church where you work may be possible. Maybe you could plan on attending Mass as much as possible during Lent. What are other options? Consider, praying novenas, a daily rosary, and the Stations of the Cross or any of a number of prayers available.
These are all great ways to get started in enhancing our prayer life. Spending an hour at Eucharistic Adoration in the presence of our Lord speaking and listening to him is critical in growing our faith. And, don’t forget the Sacrament of Reconciliation during this holy season. Vary your prayers and the schedule as needed. Sometimes we can repeat the same prayer so many times we tend to do it without giving it thought. Particularly during Lent, you want to make the most of your prayer time by thinking about the words you are saying.
Set aside time each day to read the Bible or maybe a book about saints lives. This will help you spend more time with Jesus reflecting on what you just read, either His word or the life of a saint and how you can emulate that. Remember that the gospels tell us that Jesus often went off to a quiet place, by himself, to pray. Remove yourself from any distractions and ask Jesus to speak to you through your prayers or readings. Thank Him for giving you life, and ask him for continued blessings and hope for a future with Him.
FASTING: Of course we know that on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays during Lent we are asked to abstain from meat. Many local parishes have Friday Fish Fries with reasonable prices, including St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, so it is a great way to abstain from meat and enjoy an evening with parishioners and neighbors.
There are other ways to fast also, such as giving up something you really like to do or to eat. It might be limiting your TV or social media time or giving up a favorite but unnecessary food. Think about what you do now and what you will do during Lent. Another positive aspect of this fasting is it may create a bit more time for prayer.
ALMSGIVING: According to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, the foundational call of Christians to charity is a frequent theme of the Gospels. During Lent, we are asked to focus more intently on “almsgiving,” which means donating money or goods to the poor and performing other acts of charity. As one of the three pillars of Lenten practice, almsgiving is “a witness to fraternal charity” and “a work of justice pleasing to God.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2462).
There are numerous ways to demonstrate our fraternal charity such as giving money or other donations to St. Vincent de Paul at St. Andrew Church or Hope Emergency, these organizations assist our local neighbors. You could also watch out for neighbors who you know may need help. Perhaps you could offer a ride to the grocery store or doctor, invite them to your house for a meal, take them some left over food from your table, or just spending time with them in a short visit.
Many other Catholic organizations provide assistance to the poor, including; the Catholic Ministries Appeal, the Collection for the Churches in Central and Easter Europe, the Collection for the Holy Land which is used to help to maintain the Christian sites and help the poor in the Holy Land. As a child, I looked forward to donating a portion of my allowance during Lent to the CRS Rice Bowl. This is a great way to involve your whole family in almsgiving for Lent.
When making your plans for you and your family, keep in mind doing something that touches the hearts of those around you and that expresses your thanks and love of God by sacrificing in some way.
Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Cor. 9:7