With Lent arriving, it’s important to remember the three disciplines that the Church encourages this season: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
But sometimes, it can be easy to get lost in the usual Lenten pattern of ashes, giving up dessert, and meatless Fridays (and fish fries, which are amazing). In the midst of the pattern, we might forget what all this is for.
If you do happen to ask yourself, “What is all this for?” you’ll probably reply with a monotone, robotic answer, “It’s to prepare us for Easter.”
And you’d probably be right.
But seriously, if you say it in that robotic, monotone way, then you probably forgot that 1,988 years ago (2021 – 33 = 1,988) the course of the universe’s history changed. Jesus Christ actually died, and Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead.
And if you may have forgot, then you can thank the Church for instituting Lent. Actually, the next 40 days (or so) will help you remember that nothing has ever been the same since.
So if you want to actually remember, like feel-it-in-your-bones remember, then you have to do what the Church encourages, which is, as said above: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. However, since those disciplines leave a lot up to us to decide, here are a few tips that focus on the first two disciplines that will help knock you out of the usual Lenten pattern and enter more fully into what it’s all for:
1. Don’t be a Lenten lightweight.
For some of us, it might be a tad too easy to do the age-old condiment fast or Facebook fast. If that’s where you’re at in your spiritual journey, don’t be offended though! Read on to Tip #2. If you are reading this tip and thinking, “Ok, I can probably do something a little more challenging,” then it’s time to up your game. Give up dessert and snacks between meals. Give up Instagram and Facebook and Netflix. Give up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays. Whatever, you choose, make sure you…
2. Don’t go overboard either.
If you drink 5 cups of coffee a day, don’t give up coffee. That’s actually a bad idea. Plus it will probably lead you to sin and have the opposite effect of a fast’s intent. Know thyself. The classic Latin saying has powerful weight here – only you can decide if something you choose to give up will simply be too difficult. Maybe a bread and water fast for all of Lent is crossing the line. On the other hand, maybe doing bread and water a few times during Lent plus Good Friday could have enormous spiritual benefits. Just remember, upping your Lenten fast game doesn’t mean you have to become an ascetic overnight.
This isn’t much of a tip at all. It’s more of an encouragement to just do it. If you don’t keep in mind Who you’re doing all the fasting for, you’ll just end up less attached to the things of this world, but not necessarily more attached to Christ. Which would mean all of Lent was a waste.
Did I say this already? Oh yeah, I did. Because it’s that important. Pick up a Lenten devotional, the Magnificat, In Conversation With God, the Liturgy of the Hours, or (one of my favorites) An Ignatian Introduction to Prayer by Fr. Timothy Gallagher. If you’ve been slacking on daily prayer recently, re-up your commitment, and don’t miss a day. You’ve got options to grow your prayer life, and you’ve got to choose one, because without more intense prayer during this time everything else becomes meaningless.
Yes, I said it one more time for good measure. You will probably fail at one of your commitments, and if you haven’t been daily receiving Jesus’ gaze into your own heart, you’ll feel down and beaten and unable to get up again. But with prayer, you can remember that He loves that you’re trying and that you are a joy for Him.