As Ash Wednesday approaches, I am considering my Lenten resolutions for this year. Merely giving up chocolate as I did when I was a child no longer suffices; my more mature spirituality requires addressing all three Lenten pillars: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
A couple of years ago I began a conscious attempt to deepen my faith. Among my efforts was to set aside half an hour each day to pray. This bore much fruit, but I have gotten out of the habit, and I miss the harmony that came from that regular prayer. Lent will be a good time to get back to that routine.
While talking with God I’m really good at complaining, but not so good at listening. Having a focus for my prayer helps get me out of myself. To aid in opening myself to God there are many good spiritual texts to read, then sit with and ask God what to glean from the words. “The Little Black Book” is a good primer, but I try to use that first thing in the morning because it’s a quick way to start my day with prayer. For the longer session I’ve got a stack of reading material that’s been piling up; one of those should work as reflection material.
The purpose of fasting is to practice self-control, but giving up any kind of food or drink doesn’t resonate spiritually with me, not even if I donate to charity the money I would normally spend on that item. I think it’s because for me there’s not much challenge in giving up even chocolate for six weeks.
I am, however, challenged by the list of items that Pope Francis suggests we abstain from: hurtful words, sadness, anger, pessimism, worries, complaints, bitterness, selfishness and grudges, among other similar habits. The Holy Father also recommends that we replace those behaviors with actions such as saying kind words, being filled with gratitude and patience and hope, trusting God and being compassionate to others. Giving up the negative habits on the first list and replacing them with the positive is not only a challenge for me but also spiritually fulfilling, so this will be my fast for Lent.
All of those positive actions are a kind of almsgiving to those with whom I interact, but I also want to give financially to my brethren in need. My charity of choice during Lent is CRS Rice Bowl, which works in more than 120 countries around the world to prevent hunger and poverty. They help farmers improve harvests, build sanitation projects to provide clean water, offer microfinancing to small businesses, offer health and nutrition services to mothers and children, and provide educational resources. Every year they publish “Stories of Hope” about communities where the donations they receive through the Lenten Rice Bowl are put to use. CRS, the relief and development agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, puts 94 percent of its expenditures into its programming – far higher than the amount of the Better Business Bureau’s standards, which recommend at least 65 percent.
We are still in the midst of the Eucharistic Revival called for by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, so attending daily Mass once or twice a week during Lent will be a way to help me unite myself wholly with Christ, to paraphrase St. Alphonsus Liguori. And, of course, there are many opportunities locally during Lent to deepen my knowledge and practice of our faith (see the listing on p. 1 and pp. 10-11).
Lent is a time for us to reflect on our sins, to ask forgiveness for them, to convert our hearts, to deepen our relationship with God, all in preparation to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. My prayer is that I and all the faithful use these 40 days wisely so that at Easter we will be able to even more faithfully follow our risen Lord.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.