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
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
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