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Not sure how to “do Lent?” Here’s how some people observe the season


Justin Fatica | SrMarla Marie Lucas/Facebook | Archdiocese of Oklahoma City

John Burger - published on 03/06/20

Catholic leaders share their approach to the 40 days leading up to Easter.

Lent is now over a week old, and the time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving is well underway for millions of Christians around the world. This special season on the Church calendar is both a penitential practice and a preparation for a great celebration. It is a time of giving things up and doing more of things that ought to benefit the soul.

While the Church prescribes certain “rules” for Lent, such as abstaining from meat on Fridays and fasting on certain days, a person’s approach to Lent can be as unique as his personal spiritual life. And as private. We asked a number of Catholics if they would share some of that with our readers — being careful not to intrude on their privacy. In the hopes that something here will help you in your own Lenten journey, here is what they had to say: 

Pia de Solenni, former Chancellor of the Diocese of Orange, California, and Theological Advisor to the Bishop of Orange

Pia de Solenni
Courtesy of Pia de Solenni

I approach Lent with baby steps. I want to do my best to be able to improve various aspects of my life during the season. I choose mortifications that may not be huge, but that I will notice and that I’ll have no excuse for not following through. Generally speaking, I don’t think Lent is the time to take on huge life changing mortifications, e.g., stopping smoking. Of course, it depends on the individual and the circumstances. Honestly, fasting from judgment can end up being a lot more impactful than giving up coffee or something along those lines.

In addition to a mortification, I try to find one concrete thing I can do to improve my spiritual life. Again, I choose something that is reasonable so that there’s a greater likelihood that I will actually do it and not fall off. If I add a few more minutes of mental prayer or take up a modest devotional practice, it will probably be more feasible for me to follow through. If I decide, for example, to do three hours of adoration every day, let’s be honest: that’s probably not going to happen. And if it does, then I’m probably neglecting other responsibilities.

In terms of almsgiving, I try to look for personal situations where I can give and help out. At times, I think we are too reliant on charities to do this work when most of us know people who are in need. If we don’t, then maybe we need to expand our circles a bit.

This year, I’m also trying to incorporate more joy and gratitude into my prayer, my work, and my interactions with others.

We generally underestimate how much we impact others and ourselves by our attitudes. A spiritual director used to remind me that a smile can be an act of charity. He was right.

Above all, I encourage people to talk with a spiritual director about how they plan to observe Lent. Sometimes, the outside perspective is needed. I know of situations where a spiritual director has told someone in difficult circumstances, “Your life is your Lenten penance right now. Just live your life with Our Lord.”

At the end of the day, the whole point is to grow more in love with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is not about beating ourselves into some sort of Jansenist submission or whatever. Lent should help us to love more so that when the Triduum comes we enter more intensely into the experiences that Our Lady had, along with the other saints present with her.

Justin Fatica, Executive Director, Hard as Nails Ministries

Photo courtesy of Justin Fatica

I approach Lent with a simple prayer of thankfulness. “Thank you, Jesus, for dying for me.”

I pray that prayer every day, and Lent is a time to really reflect on the meaning of the cross and how much God loves His kids. Being a dad is one of the greatest honors of my life. I can’t imagine sending my son to die on a bloody cross for anyone.

Something that I am doing this Lent is to be more intentional in reaching out to others. In my prayer time, God put on my heart that there are people that I see in my day-to-day life who need encouragement. Each one of us has an opportunity to save someone’s life.

I was at the local 7-Eleven on Ash Wednesday. I looked at the cashier working there, and when she saw me with the ashes on my forehead she said, “I forgot it was Ash Wednesday!” I said, “I can bring you a priest if you want.” She laughed and asked, “Can you bring him for free?” I responded by saying, “You’re amazing! Thank you for being alive.” She thanked me and told me that was exactly what she needed that day.

I believe that encouraging the people that I see from day to day is just as important as when I am speaking in front of thousands of people. Let’s be the person to others this Lent that we wish someone would be to us.

Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart, Mother Servant of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth

George Martell | Archdiocese of Boston | Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

I often thought of Lent as an extended spiritual journey and pilgrimage. Since the goal of every pilgrimage is to journey deeper in the road that leads us into deeper relationship with Christ, I often look for ways that will bring me to this place of deeper union with God. As a servant of the Lord and a daughter of the Church, I observe the Lenten practices recommended by the Church, but at the same time I look for other personal ways that I can stay closer to Jesus in the desert.

Desert is a place of solitude for extended times of prayer. It is a place of poverty to live by what God provides, and it is a place of solitude with God and others in their desert experience. Because my understanding of the Lenten desert has these three dimensions, first I try to have deeper examination about my life of prayer and my intimate solitude with the Lord through various times of prayers and devotions. Then for the experience of the poverty of the desert, I try to embrace my own poverty of doing God’s will each day without expectations.

Once I heard a story about St. Mother Teresa, that somebody shared with her that good people do good things and holy people do good things. Mother Teresa replied that these two things are not the same. She replied, “Good people do good things and holy people do God’s will.” Since I do long to pursue this path of holiness in spite of my unworthiness, I want to live every moment of my day focusing on God’s will in that present moment. Such attitude requires absolute poverty of self-expectations.

Last but not least, when I think of desert as a place of solidarity, I think of all the people who are living in the “desert” because of so many circumstances of their lives. In a special way, this Lenten season, I’ve been thinking and offering my prayers of solidarity with those Christians who are persecuted for their faith, for families who have so much brokenness and pain in their lives, whether because of broken relationships or chronic illnesses. In a special way, I offer my solidarity with those who are lost in the “desert” of addiction which has caused them to experience many losses of family relationships, jobs and hope.

I do take the Church’s teaching on prayer, fasting and almsgiving into a deeper and personal meaning to be with the Lord, to be with others, and God willing, through the graces of living a faithful Lent, I will come to experience Christ’s redeeming grace in and through the crosses of my own life as I keep my gaze on the light of Resurrection that comes from Him alone.

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