We are less than one week away from the beginning of Lent. This important season of the Christian’s life begins on February 13th (Ash Wednesday), and many of us will use the time to purposefully strive to get closer to God. According to most of the literature I’ve been reading about the season, there are three core elements to Lent: fasting (or giving up something), almsgiving (charity), and prayer.
Through the practice of these three spiritual disciplines, Lent is a season of fasting, self-denial, spiritual growth, conversion, and simplicity. Lent is often viewed as a “spiritual spring cleaning” or a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our relationship with Jesus Christ and our service to him.
There is still some time to consider what commitments you would like to make this Lenten season. Let’s look at each of the three major areas and see how the fit together to help us grow between now and Easter:
It’s common for an individual to select a food he or she loves (typically consumes on a daily basis) and “give it up” for Lent. Examples include meat, caffeine, dessert or chocolate. Other people limit or eliminate their television or media time — in recent years, some have even chosen to give up Facebook or social media during the Lenten season. Some make changes to impact their budget, cutting out restaurant dining or other “extra” expenses. When it comes to fasting, the most important part is that each individual chooses to give up something that typically interferes with his or her relationship to God, taking time and attention away from the more important task of developing and strengthening our spiritual lives and relationships.
While Lent is about giving something up (fasting), it is also about putting something positive in its place. After all, the best way to remove vice is to cultivate virtue. Lent has traditionally been a time of helping the poor and doing acts of charity and mercy. This is a year round calling for those of faith, but Lent is a good time to examine new ways to get involved and to make resolutions to actually do them. This can be done by partnering with an organization (like Catholic Charities) or by helping your family, friends, and neighbors who are living in difficult situations. One of the best ways to give alms is by volunteering for a charity. While Catholic Charities’ staff are more than happy to find a way to help you get connected (call us at 269-381-9800 or check out our website), there are many great local organizations and parishes who would love to have your service!
The spiritual discipline of prayer is much more than asking God to give you (or others) things. It is about building a relationship. After all, God knows your every thought and need even before you do! It’s the time spent with Him, discerning His will, that makes prayer so powerful. Lent is a time of confession, seeking God’s help to build better lives and there are many prayer resources to assist you (many of them available via a google search). Prayer is a very personal action and we encourage you to spend some time in your room, on your knees this Lenten season.
As you prepare for this important season of Lent, we encourage you to take some time and be specific and intentional. As Steven Clark likes to say: “Lent is more than a diet.” Lent is about spiritual results, not material ones. So, while losing a few pounds may be a nice side benefit, choose your Lenten disciplines with a focus on God’s glory and spiritual growth. It is important to remember that our Lenten disciplines are supposed to ultimately transform our entire person: body, soul, and spirit. Through living them during the season, we hope they will help us become more like Christ and more reliant on Him.