Catholic stewards make intentional decisions about how to spend their time, their resources; in short, they are intentional about how to live life.  The gift of the liturgical seasons, given to us by the Church, can be taken up by the Catholic steward and used to live the kind of intentional life that will lead us closer to Jesus.  In just a couple of weeks, we will enter the great season of Lent.  In this post, I would like to offer some background, ideas and resources that can help us make the most of this season.

First a little history . . .

Solemn preparation for the great feast of Easter has been part of the Christian tradition from the earliest of times.  For instance, we have a portion of a letter from St. Irenaeus (d. AD 203) to Pope St. Victor I outlining the differences in the practice of “the fast” between East and West.  He indicates that these differences did not originate in his own time, but go back to the “time of our forefathers.”  From this we can deduce that, although the specifics varied, the practice of fasting to prepare for Easter goes back to the beginning of the Church. The Council of Nicea (325), in its disciplinary canons, noted that two provincial synods should be held each year, “one before the 40 days of Lent.” St. Athanasius (d. 373) in his “Festal Letters” implored his congregation to make a 40-day fast prior to the more intense fasting of Holy Week. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386) and St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) both noted the practices and duration of Lent, emphasizing the 40-day period of fasting in their writings. Finally, Pope St. Leo (d. 461) preached that the faithful must “fulfill with their fasts the Apostolic institution of the 40 days,” again noting the apostolic origins of Lent. One can safely conclude that by the end of the fourth century, the 40-day period of Easter preparation known as Lent existed, and that prayer and fasting constituted its primary spiritual exercises. (History of Lent, Catholic Education Resource Center)

Over the years, modifications have been made to our observance of Lent, but these primary roots remain.  Today we observe Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday (February 26th this year) and ending at sundown on Holy Thursday.  Our 40-day period today does not include Sundays, but does include Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, commonly called The Triduum.

What should we do?

Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel, calls us to pray, to fast, and to give alms: “when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites,” “when you fast, do not look gloomy,” “when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing” (Mt 6:5, 16, 3, respectively). These three penitential practices are given to us to help us deepen our relationship with God and with others and free us from those things that impede those relationships.  They are powerful ways to bring discipline into our days.

“Discipleship, our following of Jesus, embraces discipline, a firm commitment to do whatever is demanded in furthering God’s kingdom. Viewed in this way, the virtue of penance is not optional, just as weeding a garden is not optional for a responsible caretaker. The gardener is concerned with a bountiful harvest; the disciple is concerned about greater conformity to the person of Jesus.

If we are serious about embracing the penitential discipline that is rooted in the call to discipleship, then we will identify specific times and places for prayer, penance, and works of charity. Growth in spiritual maturity demands a certain level of specificity, for it shows that we take seriously God’s call to discipline and are willing to hold ourselves accountable. ” (Penitential Practices for Today’s Catholic, USCCB)

Let’s Get Specific

PRAYER

Prayer is our conversation with God, it involves both sharing our thoughts, feelings and desires with Him AND listening as He shares His thoughts, feelings and desires with us.  In the Characteristics of a Stewardship Parish one of the characteristics of a parish with Lively Faith is one in which the majority of parishioners spend at least 15 minutes each day in prayer.  If you are not doing so already, can you set aside 15 minutes each day for prayer this Lent?  Secondly, no matter what our prayer habits are, it seems to me that in our day and time, the most important question we can ask ourselves with regard to prayer is:  How can I create the silence, within myself and outside of myself, necessary to hear the Lord speaking to me?  To consider this Lent:

  • Commit to a time each day to prayer (at least 15 minutes)
  • Commit to more silence in your day
    • Consider spending some time in Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament
    • Turn off your radio in the car
    • Turn off the t.v.

Some resources to help you pray:

FASTING

Jesus said, “WHEN you fast” (not IF you fast) “don’t be gloomy!”  Jesus presumed we would fast.  Why?  Fasting does two really important things for us.  First, it gives us the opportunity to develop discipline.  Because of the Fall, we struggle to direct our “passions and appetites” to good ends.  We need a spiritual exercise program that will strengthen our wills.  Fasting can do that for us.  Further, disciplined people are free to love well.  They can sacrifice their own desires and wants for the other.  They can act unselfishly and generously.  Secondly, fasting helps us make room in our lives for God.  As Caryll Houselander says so beautifully, “God cannot fill a cup that is already full.”  Sometimes our lives are so full, we have no room for God.  We have no time for him, no energy for him, no desire for the good things He wants to give us.  Fasting can help us empty our cups.

Often when we think of fasting, we think of food.  Food can be a good thing to fast from.  Hunger can make us aware of those who go hungry all the time.  Denying ourselves food can build discipline.  But there are many things we could choose to fast from.  Perhaps it isn’t your pantry that needs to be emptied this Lent, but your calendar.  Many years ago, when I was first trying to establish a regular habit of daily prayer, I struggled.  I could never seem to find the time to pray.  Life was just too busy.  One day it occurred to me that I almost always found time every day to read the paper.  So I cancelled my subscription for Lent.  I fasted from the morning paper.  Voila!  I had time to pray.

This Lent, don’t be afraid to think creatively about fasting.  Have the courage to ask Jesus what He would like you to give up!  “Lord, what do I need to empty out of my ‘cup’ so you can fill me with your love and grace this Lent?”  What truly gets in the way of you loving God and your neighbor?

ALMSGIVING

Almsgiving is just a fancy word that simply means, “Be generous, people!”  Lent is a time to remind ourselves that Love is an action verb.  And God calls us to love him and also to love our neighbor.  We do that by generously sharing our hearts, our lives and our resources with both.  A Catholic steward, “receives from the Lord gratefully . . . and gives back to him with increase.” (Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response)  In deciding how you might practice a greater generosity this Lent, the place to begin is to perhaps first take inventory of just how much you have.  Take some time to reflect on all of the blessings you have in life; of the ways God has blessed you.  When I take the time to reflect on just how much I have, my heart is full of gratitude.  Out of this gratitude comes generosity and a greater sensitivity and compassion for those who have less.  As Lent approaches, make a list of your blessings and then resolve to spend Lent blessing others.

Some Resources to get you thinking:

Fitting the Pieces Together

Jesus’ invitation to pray, fast and give alms is richly interconnected.  Sometimes we need to fast in order to have time to pray.  Sometimes our prayer convicts us of attitudes and behaviors that we need to remove from our lives through fasting and penance.  Sometimes our fasting frees us to be more generous with others.  Our generosity often makes us more willing to sacrifice and fast.  All of these practices are powerful tools in life, but together they pack a punch that is greater than the sum of their parts.

Change doesn’t come easy for any of us and sometimes being too ambitious can be our undoing.  Better to make one resolution and keep to it faithfully for all of Lent than make ten lofty goals and finish none.  So be realistic and don’t feel bad about it.  Talk over your plans with a trusted friend, spouse or co-worker.  He or she can perhaps see more clearly than you can whether or not your ideas for prayer, fasting and almsgiving are both challenging and realistic.

Don’t forget to PRAY!  If a friend or spouse’s advice can be helpful, how much more so God’s.  Maru, the Administrative Assistant in the Office of Stewardship, shares, “The best Lents for me are the ones in which I ask the Lord, ‘What do you want to give to me this Lent.’  Once, I felt him saying to me, ‘I just want to show you how much I love you this Lent.’  And WOW!  I couldn’t believe all of the things that happened to me; all of the ways he showed His love to me!”   The best possible Lenten practices to take up in 2020 are the ones God suggests for you!

Adding a Dash of Inspiration

Lastly, you might consider picking one Lenten resource that can be a companion on your journey.  Here are a few good ones:

Ash Wednesday is two weeks away.  Take some time to pray, think, reflect and plan.  Be intentional in how you choose to keep the season of Lent, and then watch as the Lord does great things for you, in you and with you!  I am looking forward to the adventure!

 

2 Comments

  1. I have been praying about what to expect and what to do this Lent. The Lord always makes it very clear. The Lord has laid a plan for me this Lent, and I am really excited for it!
    It will require a lot of praying, it will require quite a bit of struggles, but I cannot wait to see what the Lord does with all of that and how much fruit it might bear if I stick to His plan, embrace the cross and walk up the hill to Calvary with Him. I know He will be with me and I will see His glory on Easter!

    Reply
  2. Very good suggestions and very well written thank you

    Reply

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