Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Lent is almost here, and like many Catholics, I am planning and praying about what I am going to this Lent to do penance for my sins and seek to overcome my sinful tendencies. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “by the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (CCC 540). Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying, so like him we are to spend Lent fasting and praying.
Scripture and Tradition give us a precedent for what our Lenten penance should look like. In the Book of Tobit, the Angel Raphael tells Tobit and his son Tobias that prayer, fasting, righteous acts, and almsgiving are united:
Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than much with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to treasure up gold. For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin. Those who perform deeds of charity and of righteousness will have fulness of life. (Tobit 12:8-9)
In Dom Prosper Guéranger’s Liturgical Year, he explains how prayer and fasting go hand in hand for true repentance:
Now, penance consists in contrition of the soul and mortification of the body; these two parts are essential to it. The soul has willed the sin; the body has frequently co-operated in its commission. Moreover, man is composed of both soul and body; both then should pay homage to their Creator. (Dom Prosper Guéranger, Liturgical Year: Lent, Volume 5, p. 31)
The way to overcome our sinful inclinations is to practice good acts, and we come to knowledge of our sin and of the good we are to do through prayer and study of spiritual works. Thus the Church has given us the season of Lent to take a serious look at our souls, to pray with a spirit of repentance, and to seek to mortify our bodies through fasting and abstinence. To do so, we need to make a plan. Today I want to tell you about a number of great resources to delve into prayer this Lent.
For several years we have been listening to the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles Advent album in preparation for Christmas. This year we finally purchased their Lent Album, Lent at Ephesus, with beautiful traditional Lent hymns in Latin and English. We have already started listening to it in this season of Septuagesima, the season in which we prepare for Lent, and it is quite beautiful.
Maybe you have prayed a novena with the help of the website Pray More Novenas. This Lent they are offering the Pray More Retreat. It consists of a series of 16 video talks on prayer from four different speakers with a study guide and prayer aid that you can use at you own pace this Lent.
Also being offered in video format is Dynamic Catholic’s Best Lent Ever, which offers daily short emails designed to help you go deeper into Lent. They emphasize that we need prayer in addition to our normal Lenten sacrifices.
Magnificat is offering their Lenten Companion App again this year. It is complete with daily prayers for the morning, evening, and night, the daily Mass readings, and a daily Lenten meditation. In addition to the daily prayers, the app includes Lenten and Easter chants, a Lenten penance service, Stations of the Cross, and other prayers. If one uses all of the prayers, one would be able to establish a beautiful prayer routine this Lent.
And if you are a woman there are two Lenten studies available in book and journal form. In the recent years apostolates for Catholic women have started to grow. The first is Women In the New Evangelization (WINE). WINE is an apostolate that creates book studies to help women form and host small groups. This year they have a Lenten Book Study based on the new book by Kelly M. Wahlquist, Walk in Her Sandals: Experiencing Christ’s Passion through the Eyes of Women. Women can purchase the book and accompanying journal and sign up for the weekly emails. This is a study one could do individually or as a small group.
Blessed is She is another new apostolate, started just over two years ago, for Catholic women. The apostolate started with a daily devotional email based on the daily Mass readings and has expanded to a virtual community for prayer requests and support and in real life local communities through brunches and small groups. It helps women integrate their faith into their daily life. The Put on Love Lenten journal this year has scripture, along with daily reflections written by author Elizabeth Foss, which guide one through an examination of conscience for the duration of Lent.
Another way to focus on prayer during Lent is to attend an in person retreat. Many parishes offer a day-long or morning retreats. I am personally looking forward to attending a weekend long retreat this Lent based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius run by the priests of Miles Christi. They have several retreats for men and women being offered across the country during Lent, but also year round. A retreat is a beautiful way to reflect on oneself and ones relationship with God and seek to make the changes necessary for growth in holiness.
The Church gives us this annual penitential season of Lent as a gift to remind us that we are ultimately meant for union with God. These things of earth are merely passing. The fasting and almsgiving teach us to focus less on material things and more on union with God, but they do not help our souls unless they are accompanied by prayer, which needs to be accompanied by external penance. This season of penance is meant to prepare us for the joys of Easter. So take it to prayer, discern how God is calling you to pray, and join Our Lord in the desert this Lent.
The Christian should, therefore, during Lent, study to excite himself to this repentance of heart, and look upon it as the essential foundation of all his Lenten exercises. (Dom Guéranger, Liturgical Year: Lent, Volume 5, p. 32)