Each year the season of Lent gives us a time to reflect on our lives, and enter into a time of spiritual growth.
So how do we make the most of the season? Recently seeing a parishioner post on their Facebook page some insights from Pope Francis about the things we can fast from, I went looking for some wisdom from the Holy Father on the season of Lent.
I came across the following from “FOCUS”, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, and thought it was a great way to take a new look at Lent. These are 10 tips that the Pope has spoken on that are great ways to enter into the season, with some thoughts added on to them from the author of this article.
- Get rid of the lazy addiction to evil
“[Lent] is a ‘powerful’ season, a turning point that can foster change and conversion in each of us. We all need to improve, to change for the better. Lent helps us and thus we leave behind old habits and the lazy addiction to the evil that deceives and ensnares us.” – General Audience, March 5, 2014. During Lent, we can think about the sins we battle and look for ways to overcome them, rather than be resigned to evil, particularly sins of habit.
- Do something that hurts
“Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.” – Lenten Message, 2014. While there’s nothing wrong with say, giving up Oreos, sometimes it’s better to focus on how we can enrich others as the pope says. For instance, maybe we’ve spent too much time away from family because are are busy with friends or activities – use Lent to spend more time at home. Or maybe we need to enrich ourselves by spending more time in prayer, choosing Stations of the Cross on Friday night rather than going out.
- Don’t remain indifferent
“Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience. God is not indifferent to our world; he so loves it that he gave his Son for our salvation.” –Lenten Message, 2015. It can be easy to not see the needs of others, both in the world but right under our own roofs. We need to open our eyes.
- Pray: Make our hearts like yours!
“During this Lent, then, brothers and sisters, let us all ask the Lord: ‘Fac cor nostrum secundum cor tuum’: Make our hearts like yours (Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). In this way we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference.” – Lenten Message, 2015. Jesus looks at others with love, always. Sometimes we have a hard time doing that. Use the season of Lent to ask yourself “who do I have a hard time loving as Jesus does” and work on it.
- Take part in the sacraments
“Lent is a favorable time for letting Christ serve us so that we in turn may become more like him. This happens whenever we hear the word of God and receive the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. There we become what we receive: the Body of Christ.” – Lenten Message, 2015. Lent is a great time to celebrate reconciliation; our service is in 2 weeks, on February 27th, along with every Saturday with expanded times the last 2 weeks of Lent. You can also consider trying to make Mass more prayerful; sometimes it can be easy to go on “auto pilot” because Mass becomes familiar. Make a conscious effort to listen to the readings and apply them to your life. Listen to the words of the Eucharistic Prayer, and let God in so He can bring you closer to Him.
“In the face of so many wounds that hurt us and could harden our hearts, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of God’s boundless love, to taste his tenderness. Lent is a time of prayer, of more intense prayer, more prolonged, more assiduous, more able to take on the needs of the brethren; intercessory prayer, to intercede before God for the many situations of poverty and suffering.” – Homily, March 5, 2014. Prayer can be easy to forget to do as we get so busy with school, work, sports, family activities. Lent is a great time to get back into the routine of daily prayer so we can grow in our love for God.
Sometimes we think of fasting with respect to food. However, it’s important to eat healthy – even our “fast” days are simply one full meal, two small meals, with no snacks. Pope Francis has said: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.” So perhaps rather than food, we can fast from anger, gossip, or the need to always be right or seen.
“Today gratuitousness is often not part of daily life where everything is bought and sold. Everything is calculated and measured. Almsgiving helps us to experience giving freely, which leads to freedom from the obsession of possessing, from the fear of losing what we have, from the sadness of one who does not wish to share his wealth with others.” – Homily, March 5, 2014. There is so much need – but almsgiving can also include not just money, but the gift of time, both to our loved ones and through volunteering.
- Help the Poor
“In the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ. Our efforts are also directed to ending violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world, for these are so often the cause of destitution. When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth. Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing.” – Lenten Message, 2014. From setting aside some money to help the poor to assisting at charities, there is so much we can do to make a difference.
“The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope! It is thrilling to experience the joy of spreading this good news, sharing the treasure entrusted to us, consoling broken hearts and offering hope to our brothers and sisters experiencing darkness.” – Lenten Message, 2014. Praying for others, talking about our faith, inviting them to Mass – there are so many great things we can do to help bring people closer to God.
I hope you have a very wonderful Lenten Season. As you can see from this list, there’s a lot more to the season than meets the eye. Lent is the springtime in the Church; a time for renewal, growth and hope. A truly joyful season, not glum, where we grow in grace to prepare ourselves for the great feast of Easter, but even more so, where we emerge a better Christian prepared to meet our Risen Lord.
Have a very blessed Lent!