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Catholic Spiritual Direction

How can I better prepare for Lent?

February 18, 2012 by  
Filed under Anonymous, Lent

Can you help me better understand how I should approach the Lenten season? I always seem to find myself in the season without any preparation and better preparethen make a knee jerk commitment that I rarely follow through with. Anyway, I am a bit ahead of the game this year but would be grateful if you could help me improve my participation in this important time.

It’s admirable that you want to live the season of Lent in a better way. Many people, unfortunately, think of Lent as merely a time to “give up something.” They grudgingly accept some small sacrifice, hold their nose for 40 days, and then, once Easter arrives, return to business as usual. Lent shouldn’t be lived like that. It is meant to be a season that leads us to a deeper conversion of heart, a closer identification with Christ. Lent has a close connection to baptism. In the early Church, adults preparing for baptism would go through a catechumenate. This program, as the name implies, involved catechesis, or instruction, about the faith. The Roman-style catechumenate, officially in place by A.D. 200, extended over two to three years and involved intense preparation each year during the six weeks prior to Easter. As the candidates approached their day of baptism (usually on Holy Saturday) they would fast for a few days. The community would join them in this fast. This was the origin of the Lenten fast. (The tradition of a 40-day fast was established in Rome in the fourth century.) The community in effect accompanied the catechumens and also prepared to renew their own baptismal commitments at Easter. And what does baptism do for us? Among other things, it “gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers” (Catechism, 1268). The common priesthood involves the work of sanctifying, teaching and governing. Our personal example of holiness can help carry out the first work; our words, the second; and our good use of authority (be it parental or political or some other type), the third. In any one of these three areas we could find ample reasons to work on something during Lent. Moreover, “Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others” (Catechism, 1434).

So what does it mean for us concretely? It means that we should aim to get rid of sin from our lives forever, and not just during Lent. You mention about making a “knee jerk commitment.” Instead of a spur-of-the-moment decision, try to set aside some time for prayer and calmly and deeply look at your life. How is your life of piety now, compared to a year ago? What are the sins you confess the most? Those sins might give you an idea of where you should focus your energy. Then, give yourself a concrete goal during Lent, something that will help you battle these particular sins. Give yourself a reasonable goal, something that you can continue to live after Easter. For example, if overeating is a problem, don’t opt for a bread-and-water diet three days a week. The likely result is that on Easter you would pat yourself on the back and then return to your old ways. Rather, learn to make a small sacrifice at each meal — and then see if you can continue that habit after Lent is over. Be sure to give your sacrifices a spiritual motivation too, such as for vocations or for the conversion of a loved one. The other two parts of the triad — prayer and almsgiving — are also crucial parts of the equation. Try to attend daily Mass. Pray the Stations of the Cross once or more times a week. Daily rosary and spiritual reading are good too. If you can get a spouse or a friend to join you in these extra activities, that is even better. And don’t forget almsgiving. This can involve acts of charity or volunteer work as well as donations to worthy causes. And keep in mind those baptismal commitments. A Lenten program could include efforts to share the faith more at your workplace. In a word, make your Lent pro-active. The habits you develop in these 40 days can serve souls all year round.

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  • judeen

    fasting in lent.. my mom always got us kids to give up candy and sweets.. she would say this is a time to learn to control your wants.. to be able to say no to your self.. for some time in your life you will want to do something and you need to be able to say no… like save your self for marraige…
        to control our emotions when fasting.. that our feelings are not uncontroled when suffering.. to also control our desires.. this one sees in addictions.. one does not control ones desires..
            also she would teach us to pray with our fasting.. to ask God for help in our nos.. and trials.. even have candy laying around, for none of us could have it.. my husband did this.. hung a beer from the ceiling where he would have to walk past it every day.. on easter he could drink it… our wills are not ours.. it is Gods.. and we need to control them.. and learn to need to ask God for help in our weakness.. for too long this has been pooo poooed. and control of emotions , wants wills , and be able to say no  and seek God in our weakness are so important

    • MSolis

      Very good advice! Thank you for sharing!

  • http://www.marythedefender.wordpress.com MariaGo

    I have question. My brother’s graduation is this March during Lent and my family normally eats in a really nice restaurant for dinner after graduations. Is it okay if we aren’t able to fulfill our Lenten fast or penance on days like that?

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Dear Friend – your answer will come on Monday!

  • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

    Thank you for this timely advice.

  • Pat

    Giving up was the way most of us were taught as children to observe the lenten season.  As adults I think a better way is to do something positive. Although giving up would still be a good idea.  For example, let’s say we give up two days of watching television.  During the time that we would spend watching we could say our rosary, go to the church and say the stations of the cross, prepare a  meal for a harried mother etc.  I am past the age when I am required to fast but I still do. As a retired person, with fewer commitments than I used to have, Lent is a good time to concentrate on praying for the souls in purgatory, for world peace, our clergy and for the Pope’s intentions.
    By all means fast and abstain from something that gives you pleasure but think of the positive things you can do for others.
    God Bless You 
    Pat

    • Becky Ward

      I like the idea of adding something positive too! …in addition to the fasting from something I like.

  • Bay City Rick

    The Lenten observance has a lot in common with the Jewish observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is a day of complete fast for Jews. Scripture says to afflict the body, hence the fast.  It is a day on which, if you hadn’t repented of any sin in the previous year, your attention is seriously focused on performing this conversion of life, to rid yourself of such sin.  Aside from the commands of God to repent (in the first place), it is obviously an additional sin to overlook this opportunity for repentence.

    catholics are supposed to go to confession and communion during the Easter season, at least once a year.  doesn’t that sound parallel to Yom Kippur in a way?

    Jews number the commands in the Torah as 613, with 365 things to not do, and the rest are things to be done.  don’t the “things to be done” sound like penance, in a way?

    YK celebrates the mercy of God.  The Jews reckon those 613 commandments as “blessings” in the idiomatic sense of commandment, because they consider themselves blessed in their observance.

    we are certainly blessed by God in avoiding sin and in performing good works, as we Catholics are encouraged to do, like the Project Rice Bowl or other charity towards the missions.

    • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

      Rick, the Feast which Jesus Christ demanded be established in the Universal Church which corresponds – and restores  the Jewish Day of Atonement in the Old Testament (Leviticus Chap.16) if the Feast of Divine Mercy, celebrated on the First Sunday after Easter.  Jesus requested this Feast to St. Faustina Kowalska in 1931.  And  He promised “A Spark from Poland” would fulfill His wish. Blessed Pope John Paul II did this on 30th April, 2000 when he canonized Saint Faustina Kowalska and solemnly promulgated the First Sunday after Easter as the Divine Mercy Sunday.  The Promises of the Blessings and Gifts He pours onto to those who observe this Feast as He dictated are as follows : “My daughter tell the whole world about My inconceivable Mercy.  I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners.  On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open…….The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment……The Feast of Divine Mercy emerged from My very tender mercy.  It is my desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the First Sunday after Easter…..” ( Divine Mercy in My Soul Diary No.699).  The Supra Indulgence Jesus bestows on souls who celebrate this Feast as He dictated, restores those souls to the condition they were on the day of Baptism!!!!!. Jesus also dictated a Novena in preparation of the celebration of this Feast which commences on Good Friday to be prayed together with the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy. He also requested that the Image of Divine Mercy, which again He asked Saint Faustina to be painted, be solemnly blessed and venerated on this Feast of Mercy Sunday. With this renewed Devotion to the Divine Mercy, Jesus has restored the old Day of Atonement for the salvation of mankind in our time.  He declared about this Feast : “Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of my Mercy”

  • Mary_Ellen_Davis

    This year I’m going to daily Mass and will pray the Liturgy of the Hours.  Getting up at 5 am in order to get to Mass and giving up time for these two things will be the sacrifice.  I’ll also try to go to Adoration at least once a week.  These aren’t just goals for Lent, I’ve fallen out of these ‘habits’ and need to get back to them.