I consider the season of Lent one of the most critical times of the year given that we Catholics (priests included!!) have to endure the excessive poison of narcissism that is all around us in our current culture. How very spiritually oppressive and paralyzing it can be to us! All of us know (to some extent) the very power of selfishness that is within each of us and outside of us. It is not very pretty –to say the least!!!
In the Church’s wisdom, the season of Lent proposes to stir in us a deeper love and reflection of what Christ actually did for us, to move us out of our self-serving mode of being into a more self-less “other centered” mode of being like our Lord himself lived. Prayer, fasting and Almsgiving are the order of the day and begins with Ash Wednesday.
I offer you some possible resolutions that you could commit to, so that this season truly is one of a deeper conversion: a “drinking in” of the pure air that our Catholic Faith affords us, and a purifying of bad selfish habits for more “life-giving” habits in your life.
I invite you to choose at least 2 from each if not three and stretch yourself in consultation with your spiritual guide if need be should you be fortunate to have one. Remember God can never be out done in generosity!
1) Buy a prayer book if you do not have one already and commit to saying everyday a morning offering to begin your day. The Catholic free app LAUDATE will get you started!
2) If you feel you are beyond the novice stage then dedicate 15-30 minutes of meditation time on the Gospel. The resources available abound. I attach a list of books I would recommend.
3) If you really want to “ratchet-it-up” then commit to a weekly holy hour before the Eucharist and to really stretch yourself do it between 11pm and 8am. You will be tired but so was Christ in the garden of Gethsemane.
4) Go to mass at least one more time during the week besides Sunday and either arrive early or stay after for an extra 5 minutes. Slow down.
1) Spend your first 5 minutes of the day on your knees as you begin your day in thanksgiving.
2) Food: no “second portions” at any meal for the whole of Lent; eat less of what you like and more of what you do not like;
3) No alcohol. Period. No exceptions. No coffee. Period. No exceptions.
4) Music/talk shows/noise in the car: “turn it off”. None of it while you are in the car. If you can’t do the “whole time” then do a portion of it.
5) Commit to having a family meal more than once a week with all the family members present! Dad should initiate this.
6) No TV. Spend that time with your wife or with your children or reading something that stimulates your spiritual life.
7) No cell phone after you arrive home from work. Leave it off till the next morning or if that is impossible leave it in your room during all meal times especially dinner. Silence is your best friend!
8) ABSOLUTELY NO CELL PHONES AT SUNDAY MASS (ANY MASS). LEAVE IT IN YOUR CAR OR BETTER LEAVE IT AT HOME!
Alms giving (service)
1) Do some act of service (even better if it is hidden) for your family or friends every week but plan on it, do it intentionally –do not think it will just “happen”! It won’t. (Examples: fold the laundry, clean some part of the house, clear the table or do the dishes without someone having to ask you) Your children are watching your example.
2) Commit your whole family to go to the parish Lenten mission for at least one day of the mission. Make sure all have the opportunity for confession. You go first.
3) Weekly reading and discussion of the Sunday Gospel at the end of dinner to prepare and enrich the experience of Sunday mass.
4) Encourage all the family members to fill up a jar in the kitchen with loose change/bills that will go to the less fortunate people of this world. Plenty of causes are out there. This idea is as old as Christmas in the Church.
5) Offer up one meal that you would normally go out for and give that money to the cause of the Kingdom!
6) Set aside an hour (or more if necessary) during Lent to examine how much you actually tithe (10 percent) each year to God. Do the math. The numbers will not lie. Once you have the number commit to increasing it by 2 percent if necessary.
7) Commit to some local service project and invite the family along. This takes organizing the calendar. Get organized.
Some guidelines offered by our own Archbishop Wilton here in Atlanta:
Lent is a season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In order to see that our preparation for Easter has a communal, and not just an individual dimension, the Church gives us certain norms for a common Lenten observance. The Lenten guidelines for the Archdiocese of Atlanta are as follows:
The following fasting and abstinence regulations are observed throughout Lent:
• Abstinence from meat is observed on Ash Wednesday (March5), Good Friday (April 18) and all the Fridays of Lent by all Catholics 14 years of age and older.
• Fasting is observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday by all Catholics who are 18 years of age but not yet 59 years of age. Those bound by this rule may take only one full meal. Two smaller meals are permitted as necessary to maintain strength according to one’s needs, but eating solid foods between meals is not permitted.
• Those who are sick, pregnant, or nursing, or whose health would be adversely affected by fasting or abstinence should not consider themselves bound by these norms.
• During the season of Lent, we are all called to embrace penances and to perform works of charity that reflect our desire for conversion of heart. Let us all pray fervently for those Catechumens and Candidates who will celebrate the Easter Sacraments with us this year. May this Lent lead us all to a deeper union in Christ with one another.