In less than a week we will begin Lent -- the period from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday -- which prepares us for the joyful Easter season. Many of us begin the season with the best intentions: giving up everything we enjoy, committing to more prayer and good works, being more mindful of opportunities to imitate Our Lord. It has been said that by fasting and meditation on the sufferings of Christ we can best induce in ourselves a proper contrition for our sins. So how do we make the most of these 40 days without losing our motivation?
Be Specific and Realistic
Too often, many of us approach this long penitential season with ideas of doing more than the proscribed days of fast and abstinence.....doing more than the minimum requirements. A prayerful approach heading into Ash Wednesday, I believe, is a way to calmly reflect on just what we want to achieve in the coming 40 days, and coming up with a specific and realistic plan aids us in achieving a profound Lenten season.
Look at your daily life and your responsibilities -- take these into consideration as you commit to additional fasting and abstinence. It won't do to commit to days of bread and water if your life and work require you to expend a great deal of calories daily. Perhaps, though, you can commit to one day of total fast and abstinence - with the specific intention of offering this in imitation of Christ's fasting in the desert.
Exchanging recreation time for meditation and good works is a wonderful thought as well. Abstaining from worldly amusements has been highly encouraged for many years. Here are some ways to make your Lent full of grace in preparation for Easter:
Set Aside Time for Meditation and Prayer
There are a variety of things we can do to increase our mental awareness of the season. Committing to reciting the Rosary each day and being really mindful of the Mysteries prayed (especially the Sorrowful Mysteries) turns our focus on what Our Lord and His Mother suffered for our redemption. Consider adding a litany to the end of your Rosary or morning or evening prayers. Those that help us meditate especially on Christ's sufferings, like the Litany of the Precious Blood, the Sacred Heart, the Holy Face are excellent choices.
Novenas are another source of prayer and meditation. A nine day commitment of prayer to Our Lady of Perpetual Help or the Souls in Purgatory is an excellent way to keep the spirit of humility and penance. Think about the dedication and what you ask in petition if you embrace this challenge. Too often I have focused on temporal concerns when saying a novena; I am learning to focus on my spiritual deficiencies and ask for greater virtue.
As you exchange television time, computer game time and the like for spiritual time, pick up a book! The Imitation of Christ, Divine Intimacy, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord, or Meditations for Lent from St. Thomas Aquinas are just a few titles worth your time and interest. Many of these are available in audiobook or Kindle for greater ease of access.
I have also found that signing up in my email to receive a daily meditation like this is a nice way to tie in to the Bible and provides much food for thoughtful focus.
Be a Doer
A healthy faith is one that is not only contemplative, but active as well. Using the Lenten season to do acts of charity bring us closer to God by serving souls.
A fantastic and easy way to accomplish this service is found in the works of mercy. Through the Corporal Works we can do things like give alms to those in need, visit the sick or those who are otherwise confined. Through the Spiritual Works we can give our time in prayers for the living and dead; or take those daily opportunities to forgive or silently suffer wrongdoing to us, and comfort those who are in need.
Taking advantage of attending Stations of the Cross when publicly prayed, or going to an extra Mass during the week can enrich our Lenten experience as well as bring us greater grace.
As with all Liturgical seasons, we should keep in mind the reason for the season, and take advantage of opportunities to grow closer to Our Creator, Our Savior and His Mother. Do your best to cultivate holiness and strive to overcome your spiritual deficiencies. Remember that even failing is a way to gain humility -- be reasonable in your expectations and stretch yourself a bit. You will be surprised at the growth you can make in your spiritual life. Keep in mind that our fasts and abstinences only please God when we also refrain from sin and do good works.