Take a page from the Orthodox tradition -- get ready now, so you can make the most of Lent.
I’m full of ideas for how to improve my spiritual life, but my mantra has been “I’ll do it in Lent.” What better time to pull myself together? But every year, when Lent does arrive, it comes like a thief in the night, which is ridiculous, since I had plenty of warning, after all. Year after year, I’m unprepared, and find myself scrambling to make resolutions that I think I can keep.
In this regard, I recently got an unexpected bit of help from the Orthodox tradition. I discovered a gem from them about how they approach the time before Lent begins. They see the Sundays leading up to Lent, called “Pre-Lent,” as a time of special preparation, so that when Lent finally comes, they are prepared to give it their all. It just goes to show how important Lent is, and how vital the work of repentance is, that there is a time set aside to prepare for a time of preparation.
A form of this tradition is kept in parishes and communities using the Extraordinary Form, as well as the parishes of the Ordinariate and Byzantine Catholics, among others. Septuagesimatide (the name, from the Greek for “70 days,” is in reference to 70 days before Easter) begins three Sundays before Ash Wednesday. Since March 1 is Ash Wednesday this year, in those parishes that observe Septuagesimatide there will be a certain focus on Lent starting with Septuagesima Sunday on Feb. 12.
For those of us not getting a reminder at Sunday Mass or Divine Liturgy, I suspect the time between now and March 1 is going to fly by even faster.
Here are a few simple ways that I’m going to try to get my soul in order this year, so that I’m ready for Lent when it comes.
1. Get moving physically
Being made of both body and soul, I’m still inclined to forget how much the body tends to influence the state of my soul. The days when I sit around on the couch for hours, I’m much, much less likely to have the energy to do the right thing. I give less time to my family, I’m less attentive to my husband, and I’m generally depressed about my own state of affairs, which leads to a subtle sense of hopelessness. But on the days when I’ve taken a walk, or exercised a bit, it couldn’t be more different. I’m more cheerful, more hopeful, and have more energy to give to my family. It’s the perfect state of mind to try to begin to make changes in my life.
2. Get moving mentally
Feed your mind. Even if you aren’t doing spiritual reading, any reading at all might help more than you think. Just reading a whole article, instead of just the headline and then a quick skim, has a way of fostering the habit of following through on what you’ve started. It helps me learn not to give up easily. And the mind, like any muscle, needs to be used, to stay strong. Using your mind more often can help deepen your understanding of your faith, which is rich beyond measure, and has so much to offer.
3. Start noticing your problem areas
You don’t have to pick your resolutions yet, but now is the time to start thinking about what areas of your life need to be revived. Has your temper been especially short lately? (Mine has. I blame cabin fever. And original sin.) A good examination of conscience will direct you to resolutions that are personally right for you, and help you see your Lenten goals more clearly. There’s also that old gimmick: try to name the seven deadly sins. The one you have the most trouble remembering is the one you may be struggling with.
4. Get yourself to the sacraments
If you’ve already made a good examination of conscience, don’t waste it. Go to confession! If you have time for daily Mass, or Adoration, even if it’s just once, you won’t regret it. It’s always the best possible decision to try to get closer to Jesus. That’s the whole point of our whole life, after all.
5. Pray, pray, pray
You don’t have to be in the mood, you don’t have to have energy, and you don’t have to have anything to say for your prayer to be a good one. What matters is perseverance. Never underestimate the power of forming a habit. It’s so hard at first, but once it’s part of your routine, it becomes second nature. And wouldn’t you love it if daily prayer was second nature to you?
If one or all of these ideas particularly struck you, have a look at these related reflections to cement your resolve:
1. If you know you need to get your body in gear, check out these 5 Saints who loved the great outdoors
2. Want some good ideas on what to read? Check out these snippets brought to you by Tod Worner. They give just a taste of some of the greatest writers and works you don’t want to miss.
3. Here’s a quick run-down of how to do a good examination of conscience, and how you might easily expand it from a look at your day to a look at this season of your life: Try “The Yearly Examen”: A spiritual exercise for a better 2017
4. Need an extra boost to get yourself to confession? Check out what happened to this guy: I know we encounter Christ in confession but I wasn’t expecting THIS.
And here’s a thought on adoration … and silence.
5. Finally, if you think prayer is too hard for you, find out why even St. Thomas Aquinas says you might be getting more out of it than you think. Yes, this is a reason for a sigh of relief.