What matters most should never be left to the mercy of what matters least. [Matthew Kelly]
The Lenten season – my favorite time in the Church calendar – begins this Wednesday, March 1st. Being my favorite, I try to make the most of these forty days, in hopes that it will bear spiritual fruits in my life. Lent is strongly connected to the renewal of our baptisms, so I pray that we might be refreshed and renewed!
The hallmarks of Lent are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. They are penitential in nature, signifying purification of our interior life and “expressing conversion in relation to oneself, to God and to others” (CCC, 1434). The Church offers many opportunities for a clean slate and Lent is an extended season to focus on that mercy and forgiveness. Amen to that!
Prayer means our direct communication with God. In fact, prayer is our very relationship with God. More time dedicated to prayer during Lent should draw us close to Him. I encourage you not to worry if your prayer life has become stale. Blessed Paul VI tells us, “If you have lost the taste for prayer, you will regain the desire for it by returning to its practice.”
Fasting has very ancient roots planted in Lent. The early Church fasted intensely for two days before the celebration of the Easter Vigil. Vatican II called us to renew the observance of the ancient paschal fast. The practice of fasting aids in our prayer life; experiencing hunger reminds us of our hunger for God. It also allows us to commune with poverty, as our impoverished brothers and sisters go hungry without choice. During Lent, we are called to fast from meat on all Fridays and also practice abstinence – one full, meatless meal and two smaller meals– on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, at a minimum.
Almsgiving fosters a spirit of generosity. We should give not from our surplus but from our need. As Paul instructed the Corinthians, “Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Lent lasts forty days, but let us not make this a “spiritual diet.” Allow your Lenten practices to develop into spiritual habits. I personally encourage the use of “diet” to be removed from the vocabulary and instead replace with an overall healthy lifestyle made up of small, consistent changes over time. For what good is it to eat healthful for a small period of time in the course of a life? Daily positive choices make a greater impact on our health. So it is the same with our spiritual lives.
Here are some practical suggestions for consideration as you embark on your Lenten journey. They merge the physical and spiritual...physical detoxification with spiritual improvement. Be sure to sit with the Lord and ask how He wants you to use these forty days.
· Drink water with lemon as you partake in morning prayer. It is important to hydrate first thing in the morning versus drinking coffee, which further dehydrates. Starting the day off in prayer will center your mind and invite God’s peace into your thoughts.
· Be present at meals. Put your phone away during mealtime. Don’t rush through eating. Chew slowly, savor each bite and enjoy conversation with the people at the table.
· Say grace before meals. Beginning each meal in thanksgiving for our blessings invites God around our table and focuses us to the present moment. Praying before meals in restaurants gives public witness to our faith and can encourage fruitful conversations.
· Do not eat after dinnertime or past a set hour, such as 9p. This practice certainly enhances our Lenten call to fasting, but it may be beneficial to your health too. Eating late at night is a predictor for weight gain and may also affect sleep quality.
Let us embark on this season of Lent with excitement of receiving the Lord’s mercy and anticipation of the great Easter feast! Cheers, friends! to the start of this beautiful time of redemption.