Forty days of Lent. Forty days of struggle, 40 days of failure, 40 days of learning to discover God in a new way.
During your childhood, Lent may have been a time for fish sticks and no chocolate, but how has Lent transformed as you aged? Has it become a season that you prepare for or one that always catches you by surprise?
Regardless of how Lent has been for you in the past, let this be the year that you practice the three pillars of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
“Do you wish your prayer to fly toward God? Make for it two wings: fasting and almsgiving.”
PILLAR 1: PRAYER
Prayer in all its forms is how you cultivate your relationship with God. It is the first foundational pillar of Lent and without it, the other two pillars would be pointless.
In prayer, we meet God in a deeply personal way. Prayer enables us to face the hurdles of life with confidence in the One who created us in His image.
There are many different types of prayer and it can often be overwhelming trying to choose one on which to focus during Lent: devotionals, the Rosary, novenas, chaplets, not to mention the more frequent reception of the Sacraments.
These recommendations will springboard you into a habit of prayer this Lent as you begin to know the Father more intimately. Choose one or two that you can commit to for at least the next six weeks – and maybe beyond!
- Pick one! Devotional Reading Suggestions
- The Road to Calvary (TAN Books): With St. Alphonsus Liguori as your spiritual guide, walk the long difficult path Our Lord took to His Death and Crucifixion – all the way through His glorious Resurrection!
- A Treatise on Perfection (TAN Books): Cardinal Richelieu’s work outlines the nine tortures of hell according to Saint Augustine, the joys of heaven, distractions at prayer, twenty spiritual counsels, and much more. It is a book that will stir your heart to love God above everything by cultivating piety, virtue, and moderation in whatever state of life you are called to.
- A Scriptural Way of the Cross (Ignatius Press): Take a new look at the journey to Calvary and accompany Jesus on the path of salvation with this unique book! Pray and meditate on the 14 Stations of the Cross drawn from Sacred Scripture. These simple yet profound meditations were written by Trappist monk Father André Louf for Pope St. John Paul II.
- I Thirst (Ignatius Press): This guided meditation on Scripture and the teaching of Mother Teresa will lead those who read it into the heart of the mystery of God’s thirst for souls, and how man can respond.
- Restore (Ave Maria Press): In this beautiful guided journal for prayer and meditation, Sr. Miriam invites you to meet the tenderness of God’s mercy and the power of His love and restore your heart and life as you practice prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
- Lent Family Bundle (Blessed is She): This is the real center of Lent, that upon which everything truly hinges: through Christ’s Death, we are brought to newness of life. With aligned themes and intertwined prayer, this is the perfect combo for leading your family toward Jesus, the Lamb of God!
- Add an Hour of Eucharistic Adoration… every week!
- According to the USCCB, “Holy hours are the Roman Catholic devotional tradition of spending an hour in Eucharistic Adoration in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. The bishops have created a variety of holy hours that focus our prayer to Jesus Christ on peace, life, vocations, and other topics that are at the heart of the life of the Church and the world.”
- Commit to a Daily Rosary
- There are many benefits of praying the Rosary daily, especially the 15 promises given to us by Our Lady.
- Add a Daily Mass
- Sunday Mass provides many graces and is the highest form of prayer. Adding a weekday Mass to your schedule for the duration of Lent can increase those graces and strengthen your prayer life.
- Try Weekly Confession
- Rev. Ronald Lawler, O.F.M. Cap. discusses the joys and hardships of frequent confession in this article.
PILLAR 2: FASTING
“The enemy … stands more in awe of those whom he knows can fast.”-St. Francis de Sales
Fasting distances you from activities that nurture vices and allows you to more clearly discern God’s voice. It is also a way to practice true penance and lead you toward closer communion with Christ.
Growing in a habit of fasting – even from the good things of creation – can fortify you against the challenges of life by reordering your priorities.
Below is a list of fasts that can challenge you on your path to sainthood. Take them to prayer and choose one or two to practice for the next six weeks of Lent!
- Ascension Press fasting ideas inspired by the men’s Lenten program “Exodus”:
- Fast from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays.
- Fast every Friday of Lent.
- Decrease your screen time.
- No social media
- Only one show a day
- Only watching TV in social settings
- Take cold showers.
- Hallow’s Lenten fast suggestions:
- Give up certain drinks (coffee, alcohol, soda) or all drinks other than water.
- Sleep without a pillow.
- Park in the back of the parking lot and pray as you walk to your building.
- Abstain from reading gossip sites or participating in gossip.
- Other ideas!
- No added seasoning, condiments or toppings on food (no salt, pepper, sugar, etc.). If it isn’t cooked with it, don’t add it.
- Don’t procrastinate, if you can get it done today, do it today.
- Take better care of your body–find a reasonable workout regimen or create your own workout routine.
- Go to bed an hour earlier and wake up an hour earlier.
PILLAR 3: ALMSGIVING
The final (but by no means least important) pillar of Lent is giving alms. Through this practice, God’s love that we encounter in prayer and fasting is shared with the world.
There are many ways to give; it isn’t all about money or acts of grandeur. There is something redeeming even in the smallest acts of kindness.
Catholics commonly divide acts of generosity into three types: time, talent and treasure. This approach ensures that everyone can find some way to give of themselves to others.
Charity is not one-size-fits-all, so as you look below, choose an option that challenges you. If one doesn’t work, get creative and find a new way to share God’s love with those around you!
- Join a new ministry at your parish (EMHC, Lector, etc.).
- Be present with others. Turn off your phone and ask genuine questions.
- Volunteer at a local charity on the weekends.
- Join the choir at your church if you like singing.
- Perform at local nursing homes or teach free music/dance lessons to friends.
- Offer free tutoring lessons for local students.
DO ALL THINGS IN LOVE
Journeying through Lent does not look the same for every person. Ultimately, it is a very personal experience with God and should be prayerfully crafted to fit each individual.
As Ash Wednesday approaches, take some time out of your week to write down what suggestions stick out to you and create a plan for a fruitful Lenten season.
May this Lent lead you closer to the heart of Christ!