Here’s the Key to Making This a Better Lent
Doing these things will not only give you and me a better Lent, but they will give a better Lent to all those whose lives we touch as well.
“Ash Wednesday is this Wednesday?”
Yes, Lent starts today. But if Lent has snuck up on you, don’t panic about what you’re going to do or give up in this penitential season. Even now, you can make this a better Lent.
A better Lent, you’ll be relieved to hear, does not involve piling a lot of new penitential practices onto our already busy lives. Instead, we should seek out practices that integrate our spiritual lives with our day-to-day lives and that engage us with other people. Let me say a few words about that.
For most people, Lenten penances don’t impact our lives in a substantial way. Giving up sweets or giving up watching sports, for example, can be true sacrifices and have merit as such. But does giving up our favorite foods or pastimes make a discernible difference in our lives by the end of the 40 days? Does it make our relationship with Jesus grow? Help us discover something new in who God is and in who he wants to be for us? Enable us to love our neighbor or our family more?
The answer to these questions is often no. One reason for that may be a tendency to view our spiritual lives as running parallel to the rest of our lives, never intersecting. Lenten obligations then become one more item on our to-do list instead of the opportunity for deeper conversion.
Another reason may be that our Lenten commitments rarely connect us with other people.
So, what if this year, we discern Lenten practices that better the lives of the people we are called to love? Rather than simply discerning what we should give up or what charity we should give alms to, how about doing things that benefit family members, colleagues, or our enemies?
What if, each day, we took a moment to intercede for a particular person in our lives? You could, for example, ask the Lord to be present to your daughter. Intercede that she come to know she is deeply loved, that she finds her identity in a loving God and not in what the world offers. But then, don’t leave it at that. Do something tangible that will impact your daughter and make present your prayer. Text her or leave a note on her pillow letting her know she is loved and has value.
Or what if you had a group of friends over to watch an episode of The Chosen or a Catholic-themed movie and then discuss what it says to you?
Our student-athletes at Franciscan University of Steubenville regularly offer the struggle and suffering of their training for the intentions of their family and friends. If you’re athletically-minded, you could do the same as you work out during Lent — and letting family and friends know of your prayers and sacrifices can encourage them and make them feel less alone.
Or what if you donate the amount you spend on some favorite item — coffee, cocktails, hockey tickets — to a charity? For example, a colleague who loves seltzer water (no, really, really loves seltzer water) is donating to an organization that provides clean water in developing countries. Or, to make it more real, spend some time helping a charitable organization minister to those in need.
Perhaps you could spend more time reading Scripture. Meditate on a verse or two for five minutes, listen to God’s word for you, and then share the verse on social media to inspire those scrolling through.
I’m sure you can think of many additional ideas to integrate this Lent’s spiritual journey into your life and form meaningful connections with people along the way. Doing such things will not only give you and me a better Lent — a Lent that transforms us in lasting ways — but they will give a better Lent to all those whose lives we touch as well.