Well, we’re about to embark on Lent 2011: 40 days of prayer, penitence and self-mortification.
Will the next six weeks be filled with trepidation — How will I give something up for 40 days? — or determination — How do I prepare myself for Easter? Lent is supposed to be difficult, but not for difficulty’s sake. Just as we need Advent to prepare our hearts for Our Lord’s coming at Christmas, we need to prepare our hearts for his resurrection at Easter.
What follows are 40 ways to make your 40 days more fruitful. Above all, we should try to abandon the American I’ll-do-it-myself-thank-you-very-much approach and focus more on “being prepared by God.” Do this — setting things aside to listen to God, putting our lives and our days in his hands — will make our 40-day plunge more like a 40-day pilgrimage to Calvary, and hopefully set in motion a path of spiritual growth that carries us long past this year’s Easter celebration.
1. If you’re only a Sunday Massgoer, attend one daily Mass. If you go to one weekday Mass, go another day, etc.
2. Look for ways to improve the way you pray the Rosary; focusing more on the mysteries it commemorates, singling out a specific mystery to pray with special intensity or offering each mystery for a specific intention.
3. Lectio divina (prayerful reading of Scripture). ’Nuff said.
4. Forgive/reunite with an estranged family member or friend.
5. Visit your ailing or lonely father/mother/grandmother, etc.
6. Really think and pray on what to give up. A priest once related a conversation between a mother, who was giving up eating between meals, and her son, who was giving up chocolate. “You’re giving up what?” the son said to his mom. “You know exactly what you should be giving up but you know you can’t: coffee.” Maybe do a better job observing traffic laws. Make it tough.
7. Pray in front of an abortion business. Last Lent, Pam Caylor and Marina Cortopassi not only prayed, but were actively instrumental in reversing an abortion that resulted in Claire Stout’s birth. (See story here.)
8. Cultivate silence. Turn off the iPod and DVD player. Shut off talk radio in the car. Hide the remote control.
9. Join 40 Days for Life. This year’s campaign includes prayer, fasting and community outreach. At last count, more than 3,500 lives have been saved, thanks to previous campaigns.
10. Husbands, pray with your wives. Wives, pray with your husbands. (Let your young children see you praying together.)
11. Moms and dads, pray with your children — not just at meal times.
12. Read the life of a saint about whom you know little, and identify a quality of theirs to emulate.
13. Reach out to someone you don’t get along with and do something positively “proactive.”
14. Learn how to pray the Divine Office. It’s not just for priests and religious.
15. Have a priest or religious over for dinner.
16. Avail yourself of one of the many fine Lenten companions out there.
17. Go deeper into Lent on a mini-retreat.
18. Donate funds you’ve been saving for a new TV to a mendicant order or to overseas missions.
19. Be joyfully hopeful. Don’t complain, especially about your parish, priest, homily, etc.
20. Start a spiritual diary to mark your progress.
21. Read The Lord of the Rings, one of the best allegories on the Passion, Death and Resurrection ever.
22. Pray the Stations of the Cross every Friday — more often if possible.
23. Unsubscribe from some time-wasting blogs and e-mail newsletters, and look for some spiritual nourishment online.
24. Receive the sacrament of confession on a regular basis — a habit to make, not break.
25. Go on a family pilgrimage to a local shrine.
26. Buy a gift subscription to the Register for someone. ;-)
27. Spend less time on Facebook, or help your friends by posting or promoting more spiritually inspiring material.
28. Learn to pray the acts of Faith, Hope and Love and commit to expressing them to Christ every day.
29. Spend a Saturday volunteering someplace you’ve never helped before.
30. Give away something you don’t need anymore, or maybe something dear to you.
31. Watch The Passion of the Christ.
32. Stop reading romance novels. Men, you know what you can stop reading or looking at. Either way, establish accountability to keep yourself on track even after Lent.
33. Pray the Angelus three times a day.
34. Change your computer’s wallpaper to something that reminds you of God, and find a desk decoration that does the same.
35. Search for an elderly person in your neighborhood who needs some help with spring cleaning or yard work.
36. Seek to learn to love someone who gets on your nerves — maybe even an enemy — by spending one-on-one time with them.
37. Commit to five to 30 minutes of mental prayer every day.
38. Check in with a local retirement home and find out who has not had any visitors for a while. And visit.
39. Write your priest a note about all things you appreciate about him and his leadership. In particular, thank him for giving his life to serve you and the Church.
40. Meditate on the last four things: death, judgment, heaven and hell.
Obviously, there are so many more we can add to this list. Feel free to add your own. A blessed Lent to you all.