Lent is a challenging time for us Catholics, so I don’t expect this to be easy. Life in general hasn’t been easy for me this past year, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been joyful or worth it.
I expect this Lent to be the same. It’s going to be a spiritual boot camp. Imagine a grunt heading off to Paris Island for the Marines. He goes in cocky and eager and spends six weeks being torn down, humbled, so that his superiors can build him up into a far better soldier – a soldier who has a better grasp of discipline, obedience and mission.
This is what I expect from the next six weeks of Lent. Am I ready for it?
I don’t know.
Do I have to do this?
This is my first Lent outside the shelter of Catholic schools and parish life. I don’t have the daily structure to guide me through Ash Wednesday, meatless Fridays, sacrifice and prayer. I’m on my own out in the secular world.
There is the temptation to not really commit to a focused observance of Lent. After all, this past year of being underemployed and financially stressed has already drawn me into sacrificing, fasting and praying. Haven’t I already turned back to God and relied on His grace and mercy? How can I possibly do more?
Many days I’ve thought I don’t have anything more to give.
But I hear God saying, “Come back to me.” And when I say, “But, Father! I already feel like I’ve been grounded! Please let me off the hook!” He just patiently, but firmly says, “Behold, I am making something new.”
Yeah, I get that. I need something new. So He nods at the Catholic calendar draped in purple and fish symbols and nudges me toward Lent. A faithful, serious Catholic cannot ignore the holy season of Lent.
How am I to embrace this challenge of Lent that God is pushing me towards? Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the three prongs of a successful Lent. I’ve decided, with this nudging from God, to take up a mixture of the traditional and the personal devotions.
The power of the rosary
For prayer I am joining in a CatholicMatch 54-day rosary novena that begins today, Ash Wednesday. I’ve fallen away from the rosary, and I really do need to cling to that spiritual weapon.
Fifty-four-day rosary novenas are hard for me, but I have found them to be very rewarding to participate in. When I join my prayers with close to 100 CatholicMatch members across the globe and we all unite our prayers with Mother Mary’s we become a force to be reckoned with. My intentions will include our concerns with the HHS mandate in the U.S., my employment issues, and my desire to find a spouse. While those intentions are critical, more important is the spiritual discipline and grace that comes from clinging to the rosary every day.
How hungry are we really?
How does one go about fasting when one is already paring things down?
In this respect I feel as if I have been experiencing Lent since 2012 started. I haven’t really been feasting this year (unless you count the 4th Annual CM Indy Chili Cook-off a few weeks ago), so there isn’t much I can give up.
I disposed of chocolate and pop many moons ago. My car hasn’t seen a fast food drive-thru in a long time.
This is where God is really asking me to dig deeper in faith. In past years I have participated with Catholic Relief Services Operation Rice Bowl. Again, that was easy to do since my students were also doing it. Children are a great motivator. Most of the world’s children are poor, and the vast majority of them don’t have more than a bowl of rice a day.
In addition to practicing no meat on Fridays, I am choosing one other day a week (besides Sundays) that I will share in only a bowl of rice. During that simple meal, I can imagine that I am sitting down to eat with Jesus and these children from around the world. I am eager to see what I will learn in terms of solidarity with the poor over the next 40 days. It will be a challenge, for sure, but I know something beautiful and new will come from it.
Time to clean house
As far as almsgiving, I am feeling the call to purge again. I am going through my books, CDs and clothes to make donations to Catholic charities like St. Vincent de Paul. Of course the charitable act is good for the soul, but there is more to it than that. I have drawers I have not opened, music I’ve not played and books that are dusty from neglect. It’s time to sort out the things in my life that are no longer beneficial.
If God is going to make something new in my life, I need to have room for Him and His blessings to do their work.
Lent is 40 days for repentance, preparation and challenge. It is a long road to the Cross that leads to the Empty Tomb. It’s time to pick up our crosses and travel the rough terrain ahead. Do you have a plan for Lent? How are you going to prepare for the new things God has promised?