The Church asks us to fast, pray and perform works of charity during Lent.
But what are the best things to fast from? What are the best ways to pray? And what are the best works of charity?
The last years of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate were dedicated to precisely these questions. Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), summed it all up by talking about the importance of love.
So this Lent, why not follow the two Popes’ advice?
Fast by giving up uncharity.
Only by learning to serve others on a small scale will we be able to serve others on a large scale.
Give up gossiping. The New Testament Letter of St. James and many other Christian writers who followed him point out that uncharitable speech about others is a major source of uncharity.
Give up critical attitudes. Catholics can easily fall into the trap of continually judging and summing up the performance of priests, bishops and other Church leaders. While legitimate criticism to the proper authorities is sometimes necessary, gratuitously critical attitudes cripple the Church.
Give up sarcasm. It’s the simplest form of humor and nowadays the most common. But it can create a negative attitude, kill charity and cripple kindness.
Give up the last word. We always want to be the one to sum up a conversation or an argument. Learning to give it up can change us — and our relationships.
Pray: Take up the daily Rosary and Eucharistic adoration.
Pope John Paul II spent the end of his life calling us over and over again to prayer. If we have stopped doing what he recommended, or if we haven’t started yet, Lent is a perfect time to redouble our efforts.
Pray the Rosary every day — Pope John Paul II called it his favorite prayer, and asked over and over again for Catholics to say it every day. On Sept. 12, 2001, he asked us to say daily Rosaries for peace. A year later he added another intention: the family. He dedicated a Year of the Rosary to his plea for us to say daily Rosaries. He pointed out that the message of Fatima was also an urgent plea for the daily Rosary.
Resources: The National Catholic Register’s Guide to the Rosary is a great way to rediscover the Rosary. See page 2 for ordering information.
Begin Eucharistic adoration — Pope John Paul II declared the last year of his pontificate the Year of the Eucharist. “The Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship,” he said. “Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go to meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith and open to making amends for the serious offenses and crimes of the world.”
Resources: www.TheRealPresence.org has a great directory of Eucharistic adoration chapels.
Perform works of charity: Promote Mass and confession.
Pope John Paul II called Catholics to re-evangelize the West, which can seem like an impossibly difficult task. But he also gave us a very simple way to fulfill it.
We’ve repeated this several times in the Register, but it seems that each time we do we hear comments from people who hadn’t heard it before — or from those who have heard it, but hadn’t acted yet.
Pope John Paul II asked us all to promote Sunday Mass and confession. His message: We don’t need a theology degree, a gift for preaching or a charismatic personality to engage in the New Evangelization. We just need to be willing to tell people how important Sunday Mass and confession are to us and invite them to join us.
Set concrete goals:
— Bring two families back to Sunday Mass this Lent.
— Talk to three people about how positive an experience confession is in our lives.
Resources: To help readers engage in the New Evangelization, the Register has provided guides to Sunday Mass, confession, prayer and other Catholic basics. Click on “How to Be Catholic” under “Online Resources” at NCRegister.com.
If the Catholics we know wake up to these basic practices of the faith, the full living of the Church’s teachings will follow. But first, we have to invite them.
With a little effort on our part, this Lent won’t just leave us changed for 40 days — it will leave others changed for eternity.