Dear Friends in Christ,
Lent is coming! This Wednesday the Church begins her yearly pilgrimage to the Sacred Triduum, the commemoration of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord. Like the Israelites who were led by the Lord from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land, Catholics are led by the Lord through the season of Lent so that we can be set free from our sins and experience more fully the freedom of life in Christ.
A real key for having a good Lent is to make a plan! If we do not begin Ash Wednesday with a clear plan in mind, we will have a mediocre Lent. Saying, “This Lent I want to be better” is not a plan! Lent is a time for us to deepen our union with Christ, to become more of a friend to him, to become more of his disciple. Perhaps that might be a good way to start building your Lenten plan–by asking yourself, “How can I be a better friend to Jesus? How can I be a more committed disciple of Jesus?” Once you have a sense of how you might want to grow in your friendship with the Lord, then build the plan around that.
During the Church’s Liturgy, the prayers often refer to Lent as, “this joyful season.” As always, we should take our cue from the Liturgy. Lent, contrary to what you may think, is not intended to be a time of drudgery. It is a joyful season whereby we make our way with Christ. When making your plan for Lent, remember that it is something joyful, not something oppressive. See your prayers, sacrifices, and good works as a joyful occasion.
I would like to make a recommendation to you. An incredible way to live Lent is to attend daily Mass. I recall fondly that during Lent in my home parish growing up, there would be four very crowded daily Masses! At the 7:00 am Lenten Mass, there could be ten altar boys serving because we all decided to go to Mass every day during Lent. I had hoped to add an extra Lenten daily Mass to our parish schedule, but it was not possible this year. There are, however, a variety of daily Mass times available in the general area, including early morning, mid-morning, and in the early evening. If you want to grow in holiness, I can think of no better way than to go to daily Mass during Lent.
Another thing I’d say about a good Lenten plan is that it should be doable, practical, and about making more room for the Lord in your life. Don’t decide to do things that you know you will quit after a day. If you’ve been lazy about praying each day, don’t decide that for Lent you are going to pray for an hour a day. Instead, if you really haven’t been praying at all, decide that you will spend ten minutes every day (preferably at the same time) in intimate prayer with the Lord. This seems practical and doable.
I was impressed by the things that some of the college students I worked with did for Lent. They were really creative. One guy gave up sitting on furniture except if he were in class, work, or Mass! He’d either stand or sit on the floor. I remember another one gave up drinking anything except water during Lent. These kind of silly disciplines have no value in themselves. They did them so that they would have opportunities to remember Christ throughout the day. Drink coffee with cream or sugar? Perhaps drink it black for Lent. Or, drink tea instead. Take the elevator? Use the stairs instead. Staying up too late? Go to bed at the same time each night. Addicted to your phone? Don’t look at it for an hour before bed or an hour after you’ve woken up!
Most importantly, remember that Lent is more about what God does than what we do. So, if you do fail in something, don’t just quit. Begin again! We sometimes have this mentality that says, “Well, I committed to praying every morning at 6:00 am for ten minutes, but I didn’t do it yesterday, so I guess Lent is a failure for me now, so I will just go back to not praying at all.” We really can be ridiculous sometimes! If you fail in your Lenten discipline, begin again.
I look forward to living this joyful season of Lent with all of you. May Easter find all of us closer to the Lord and closer to one another.
Your Brother in Christ,
Fr. David Barnes