Ideas before Lent by Sean Caron
Most of us are aware that times of penance, prayer and fasting are part of most of the world’s great religions. Very early in the history of Christianity, the custom of fasting and penance was adopted to prepare for the solemn commemoration of the Lord’s Passion, death and resurrection. The Church adopted as its model the 40 days of fasting of Our Lord’s period in the desert at the very beginning of His ministry.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, with its solemn reminder “Man/Woman remember you are dust, and to dust you will return”. It then lasts for 6 weeks, culminating in Holy Week with the celebrations of Palm (Passion) Sunday, and the great Sacred Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Vigil of Easter.
If you take this time to deepen your relationship in Christ, by prayer and fasting, you will be surprised. At Easter, you will want to shout joyfully, “Christ is risen!” At least a bit of the joy of Mary and the apostles will be yours on the day of the Resurrection.
In preparing for Lent this year, I have thought a lot about what Lent means to me, and what it means to sacrifice. I wrote these notes primarily for myself as a set of reminders about the season and my response to it. I hope at least some of them are useful to you as you think about this holy season. Much of what is here is suggested (and even outright plagiarized) from a wonderful priest, Father John Riccardo, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit. You can read his many articles, and get podcasts of his talks and sermons, at this link.
The purpose of Lent
• Remember always the purpose of Lent – to emerge from Lent at Easter more like Christ! Everything – all you give up, all new things you might take on – should be oriented to that goal alone. The point is not to lose weight, not to look good before other people because you are attending stations or daily mass, not to break a bad habit.
• To the degree that we have grown in our love for the Lord with all our heart, mind and strength, and to the degree that we have grown in our love for our neighbor as ourselves, we can measure the fruitfulness of Lent for us.
Our response to the challenge of Lent
• Do prepare for Lent ahead of time. Consider the sacrifices you select carefully. If you have traditionally made the same sacrifices, consider doing something different this year. Don’t let your response to Lent become a rote reaction.
• The Church traditionally gives us three helps to grow like Jesus. They can be found in St. Matthews Gospel, in Chapter 6, which is the second half of the Sermon on the Mount. Prayer (“when you pray…”), fasting (“when you fast…”), almsgiving (“when you give alms…”) Notice that in all three cases, Jesus says “when”, not “if” …
• Some of our Lenten sacrifices should be for someone else – an offering of penance for a specific person or persons. Fasting is a hidden act of love. The people we fast for typically never know. Yet, fasting is “heavy artillery” in spiritual warfare (see the Gospel of St. Mark, 9:29). It has the effect of eroding resistance to the grace of God. When you are tempted to break a fast, remember the person you are fasting for. Thus the fast is not just (or even primarily) about you. Pray for them, and trust that these “hidden acts of love” will bear an impact on that person.
Remember St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 1:24: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s suffering for the sake of his body, that is, the church This is possibly the most difficult passage in Scripture. What could be lacking in Christ’s suffering? Nothing – except my participation in it! Christ wants us to be involved with him in the work of redemption. What are you willing to do for your neighbor?
• Some of our Lenten sacrifices should be for ourselves as an expression of sorrow and remorse for our sins. A sacrifice that is a daily reminder that God has redeemed us at a tremendous price. Father Augustine Di Noia says – “If the Cross is our remedy – (think of The Passion of the Christ, if you have seen it) – if our remedy is God so brutally injured that He is almost not recognizable as human – then how great is our wound? The Cross and the Passion of the Lord tell us that sin is far more serious than we ever feared to imagine.”
• Do realize – there is tremendous grace “in the air” at this time of year. I have often tried to make sacrifices or penances at other times of the year only to fail badly. Actual grace is everywhere in lent. • Strongly consider adding silence to your list of prayer and sacrifice– in the car, or for a period of time in church or at home – try to have some silence to listen for God everyday.
• Consider having a dedicated prayer time. o Not prayer in time spent doing other things (eg. driving, watching TV, working, etc). This doesn’t mean not to pray during these times! but it does mean to have other time set aside specifically for prayer. o This time should be defined – say 30 minutes, given to the Lord. o It should optimally be at the same time every day, if possible. o It’s a good idea to have a specific place to pray – a place in your house, a specific chair – which you only use for prayer. When you are there, you are praying …
• Consider making a commitment to learn more about the Divine Mercy during Lent, and especially about the promises of Our Lord on Divine Mercy Sunday (the second Sunday of Easter – ie, the Sunday after Easter Sunday). For more information, see http://www.thedivinemercy.org
• The moment the sacrifices you make cause you to start acting like a jerk (for me this is a result of giving up caffeine!) – give up that sacrifice! It’s not making you more like Christ! You are not acting in charity. Lent is not about “mind-control” or “seeing what you can do”. It is about growing in love. Be Joyful! Remember the Sermon on the Mount. •
Don’t be afraid to fail – and don’t let failure deter you! Many people fail in their promises and then just give up. Don’t just give up. But do consider *why* you failed prayerfully. God may be telling you to try again. Or He may be saying that you are not yet ready for a sacrifice or commitment this great. Accepting this takes humility – but remember the goal! Being more humble will definitely make you more like Christ at the end of Lent. Try working on something smaller.
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