Throughout the course of a year, many Christian churches mark time not only by the seasons of nature, but also through the different periods of the life of Jesus Christ, known as liturgical seasons. These seasons draw Christians deeper into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ by inviting them to live life through a certain lens. Lent is the liturgical season of the 40 days before Easter marked by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and leading Christians to a more radical awareness of the love of God and their need for a savior.
As stated above, Lent is a season of preparation, so the question must be asked “For what are we preparing?” Before an answer can be given, we must first look at the annual life of a Christian and the other liturgical seasons. The two major Christian celebrations are Christmas and Easter, and each of these celebrations have their appropriate seasons of preparation (Advent and Lent respectively) as well as their own motifs. For Christmas the motif is light from darkness; Easter’s motif is life from death. These themes are even reflected by nature–the darkness of winter and the new life of springtime. The season of Lent is meant to prepare us to receive new life at Easter. Jesus attained this new life for all mankind through his death and resurrection, the same life that each Christian receives in Baptism. What a beautiful and full expression of new life, to rejoice with those receiving the divine life of Christ at their baptism during the Easter Vigil! Whether we are to receive baptism this upcoming Easter or we have already been baptized, Lent is an invitation to enter into the mystery of why Christ endured death so as to give us eternal life. With this understanding of the “why” of Lent we see that our disposition changes. We move from the sober seriousness of self-imposed punishments to the joyful anticipation of baptism and new life. For those who have previously received baptism, Lent is a period for a second baptism–a baptism via interior purification. Thus Lent does not become a once in a lifetime experience. It takes place annually to assist and deepen our union with the Lord Jesus–the new life of Jesus which is perpetually offered to each of us.
Anyone seeking to establish and deepen their relationship with God can partake in the three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Prayer aids us in building our relationship and communication with God, fasting allows us to give God a deeper place in our hearts, and almsgiving invites us to see God in our neighbor and respond in charity. Each of these 3 pillars is meant to be practiced with the other two and not in isolation so that we grow closer to God by sanctifying our relationship with Him, ourselves, and our neighbor. During Lent, we are invited to take up one practice for each pillar, always remembering that God is at the center of our efforts. Indeed, we aim to say like St. Paul, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). If Lent seems daunting, or if it’s something new to you, take this encouragement from Mother Teresa: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”
– St. Therese of Lisieux
“Prayer is a deep conversation which takes place when we exchange not only words, but thoughts, hearts, feelings, in other words, when we give of our own selves.”
– St. John Paul II
Prayer is, in essence, a conversation with God. It is the lifting of our hearts and minds to God and responding to Him, who is constantly calling to and pursuing our hearts. In prayer God is the initiator, He knocks on the doors of our hearts asking to be let in, and we in response, answer him by opening the door and letting him into our lives, with all the messiness, insecurities, pain, joys, and desires that we hold inside. He comes to us in the silence, in a “still, small voice”, and whispers our name, revealing the depth of who we are, who he created us to be, and who he is.
Suggestions for Prayer
- Sign up for the Catholic Hoos Lenten Reflections
- Read Scripture daily
- Dedicate regular time to silence throughout your day
- Begin your day with a morning offering and conclude your day with the Examen
- Begin a gratitude journal
- Go to the sacrament of Confession
- Listen to the Bible in a Year podcast
- Watch The Chosen
- Pray the Rosary, or a decade of it, daily
- Choose regular times (daily or weekly) to visit Jesus in Adoration
- Pray Morning Prayer or Night Prayer
- Read the biography of a saint
- Choose a spiritual book to read
- Pray the Stations of the Cross. You can do this at St. Thomas Aquinas on Fridays at 6PM.
- Get up early to pray before you start your day
- Listen to Christian music or podcasts
- Practice Lectio Divina, prayerful reading of Scripture
- Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet
- Choose one person each day to pray for intentionally
- Visit a cemetery and pray for souls in purgatory
“Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God”
– Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
“Fasting detaches you from this world. Prayer reattaches you to the next world”
– Venerable Fulton Sheen
Fasting is built upon prayer as it is not so much the removal of certain things, but the giving of increased space in our lives to God. When we give up something, we do not just create a void, but we invite God into the space that another thing held. To fast from sweets is to choose God as our sweetness instead; to fast from social media is to seek God’s affirmation and companionship in the place of others; to give up unnecessary spending is to make space in our lives for the needs of the poor in place of our own. Fasting allows us to feel our own weaknesses and to invite God to be our strength and our source of joy and fulfillment.
In the Church’s tradition, within the season of Lent, there are specific days when the Church calls us to fast. These days are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Technically, a day of fasting consists of eating one regular sized meal and two smaller meals that together would not make a full sized meal. There is another fasting tradition, known as abstinence, which refers to abstaining from meat during certain days during Lent (usually, Fridays, Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday). Please note that those with medical or mental health conditions are exempt from fasting and abstinence, and are encouraged to find other ways to enter into this season (see suggestions below).
Suggestions for Fasting
Please note that fasting should not be undertaken when medical or mental health conditions pose a risk. This includes illnesses, medical procedures, eating disorders, extreme scrupulosity, etc.
- Get out of bed on the first alarm.
- Increased exercise
- Take cold showers
- Get a full 8 hours of sleep/have an early bedtime.
- Less or no screen time in the evening
- Reduced or no social media
- No sweets or dessert
- No seconds for meals
- Do not add extra salt/seasoning to food
- No snacking
- No sweet drinks
- No unnecessary purchases
- No junk food or fast food
- No coffee, or no adding cream or sugar
- No Netflix or streaming services
- No listening to music, either totally or on certain day
“Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”
– St. Mother Teresa
“Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
– Matthew 19:21
Through prayer we are given the eyes to see Christ in the poor, and through fasting we enter into solidarity with the poor, feeling their need and seeking through compassion and empathy to meet their needs. Almsgiving invites us to look with greater clarity and gratitude at the gifts and blessings that we have received. It’s an opportunity to put others’ needs before our own. To give alms is to give from the blessings that were given to us, making us both recipients and givers, for all gifts come from and return to God, the source of every good thing. As St. Paul reminds us, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 4:7).
Suggestions for Almsgiving
Consider 3 ways to give alms: giving of your time (e.g. volunteering, outreach to the poor), talent (using your talents for a good cause), treasure (donating financially).
- Homeless Ministry each Friday
- Mission Trip
- Elderly Ministry
- Volunteer with St.Thomas Aquinas Youth Ministry (Contact: Reed Goloumb, [email protected])
- Volunteer with Religious Education (Contact Caroline Golomb, [email protected])
- Donate money to the poor; use the Poor Box at St. Thomas Aquinas
- Call your family and be fully present with them
- Give someone a compliment every day
- Almsgiving Drive: Consider giving up a cup of coffee/week to give back to Catholic Hoos
- Buy someone a meal each week or prepare one for them
- Each day, write an affirmation note to someone
- Go out of your way to be present to a friend who’s struggling
- Donate supplies to a local homeless shelter
- Give blood
- Walk with a friend who is struggling with their faith, bring them to Mass/Church, or share resources you found helpful