27 Things to Consider Doing for Lent
Consider these suggestions for renewing your life in Christ this season.
Lent is the perfect time to evangelize those who live among us. Having an ashen cross on your forehead is, if nothing else, a great conversation starter. People are always curious about what we Catholics do as a faith community. By committing ourselves to these four aspects, we commit ourselves to reclaiming that which is God’s (Matthew 22:2). By doing so, we can become the conduit through which God enters our lives and the lives of others. I’ve listed herein 27 things for Christians to do to evangelize themselves and others. Consider them in recreating and renewing your life in Christ:
1. Pray the Stations of the Cross. Most parishes will offer an opportunity to pray the Stations of the Cross on Fridays during Lent. Accept this opportunity God is offering you to learn more about the faith and about your own spiritual lacunae.
2. Join a lay Christian association. Consider getting involved with a lay Catholic association. Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, Third-Order Franciscans, Focolare, the Neocatechumenal Way and the Knights of Columbus are only a few of the lay associations available to the Faithful. Membership in them will help strengthen one’s spirituality and will help build up the Body of Christ.
3. Count your blessings. Believing in God isn’t sufficient. It’s important only if you trust in him and trusting him means submitting to him. Consider the blessings in your life and thank God for them. Be in him and allow him into your soul. By doing so, you’ll be a light unto the world (Matthew 5:14).
4. Seek out those in need. Christ told us, “You will always have poor people with you” (Matthew 26:11). This was an admonition to always care for those less fortunate than ourselves. The poor are the Church’s treasure. Let us be sure to treasure them also (James 2:14-16).
5. Commit yourself to reading Scripture. Pope Benedict XVI has recently asked Christians to commit themselves to familiarizing themselves with Sacred Scripture. Bring the Bible into your daily prayer. It is, as the Catechism says, the primary source of our knowledge of God.
6. Pray the Divine Office. It’s fun. It’s orthodox. It’s traditional. Need I say more? For two millennia, Christians have paused several times every day to focus on God. It is the reason for the profound sanctity of many of the Church’s saints. Seven times a day may be too much to ask for people who aren’t nuns and monks, but concentrating only on Morning and Evening Prayers is sufficient to awaken a new spirit of devotion in your heart.
7. Engage in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. We participate in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue whenever we speak to people who believe in God, whether Christians or otherwise. It promotes peaceful understanding and tolerance and might lead to a spiritual awakening in those we engage. We want to impress non-Christians by how dedicated and loving we are. This is one of the best kinds of evangelization available to us.
8. Be a peacemaker. Make peace with someone you think doesn’t deserve any respect, forgiveness or a moment’s worth of consideration. If not, what exactly did Christ mean when he said we were to forgive our enemies?
9. Read traditional Christian spiritual treatises. As Christians we are heir to a wondrous treasure of spiritual treatises designed to elucidate. Everything from St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Pope St. John XXIII, St. Teresa of Ávila, Thomas à Kempis and St. John of the Cross.
10. Support Christian agencies, schools and charities. There are thousands of Christian charities and other non-profits around the world that need our help. Consider volunteering and financially supporting them in the good work they do.
11. Make a Holy Hour. Eucharistic adoration is a part of spiritual life of a growing number of parishes, and one would be hard-pressed to find a single saint in all Heaven and Earth who didn’t spend quiet time attending to the Lord upon his altar. Resolve to spend at least an hour sometime during Lent to sit quietly before the Blessed Sacrament. You will find yourself coming back again and again. Your parish might schedule a Quarantore (Italian: forty hours) during Lent. This would be an excellent opportunity to meet the Lord in prayer before the exposed Blessed Sacrament.
12. Adopt a retired priest or religious. They’ve given their all to God and the Church. It’s time we return the favor. If you can afford to donate money to a religious retirement center that would be great, but it would also be wonderful to spend time with someone who has given so much over many decades of service to the Church. Remember the people who taught you how to read, write and pray and be sure to thank them.
13. Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. One must wonder which is worse — St. Valentine’s Day being loss to secular society or the loss of St. Patrick himself. The former is no longer seen as religious holiday, as evidenced by the fact that most Westerners will not use St. Valentine’s proper title. St. Patrick is always referred to by his proper title but, to our disgrace, St. Patrick’s Day is no longer treated as a holy day but instead associated with face painting, drunken revelry and excess. Worse still, it interrupts our Lenten observances. The time has come to retrieve and reconsecrate St. Patrick’s Day and make it our own again. We don’t have to completely strip it of the fun but I think it would bring better honor to St. Patrick and ourselves as a community if the holiday weren’t associated with excessive drinking.
14. Stand up for Jesus Christ. Stand up for Christ. Stand up for the Church. When confronted by bigoted, closed-minded, anti-Christian opinions, it is incumbent upon us to lovingly teach and inform. Christ’s love is the answer to ignorance, hatred and bigotry. If not, what exactly is it that we believe in as a faith community? The world is becoming increasingly hostile toward Christians and Christianity. One cause of this animosity is our reluctance to confront it. Many times I’ve had to correct misinformed, anti-Christian people and their illogical ahistoricity. Live your life as if it were not really your life. It, like all things in the universe, belongs to God and we are only stewards of his creation. Keeping this in mind, it is easy to understand the courage that our saints had as they lived their lives in Christ. The history of the Church is full of stories of martyrs who knew that Christ waited to welcome them into his kingdom. Not everyone is courageous enough to seek out a martyr’s crown, but all of us should pray for the strength to be strong in the face of persecution from the unenlightened and unconverted.
15. Receive Holy Communion frequently. John Paul II pointed out to us that the Eucharist contains in itself the “world’s principle and eternal source of salvation.” Participation in the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is therefore the most effective missionary act in which the Faithful can participate. We shouldn’t deny ourselves this glorious gift from our Father. We should avail ourselves of its benefits as often as possible. In addition to going to Mass on Sundays of Lent, resolve to attend Mass with your family on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, St. Joseph’s feast day, St. Patrick’s feast day, First Fridays and especially during Holy Week.
16. Go to confession. Don’t be afraid. Just go.
17. Intercede for those in need. A Jewish friend of mine was surprised when I offered to pray for his ailing mother. He was surprised but ultimately thanked me. He came to understand that my faith was the standard by which I ordered my universe. It was an evangelizing moment for us both. James writes that Christians should pray for those in need, so that they might be healed. He further assures us that the prayer of a good person is particularly efficacious (James 5:16). We supplicate. God provides.
18. Recognize the Church calendar in your life. We as a faith community measure time in terms of ecclesiastical seasons and individual feast days. Classic literature is full of references to the uniquely Christian way time had been reckoned. It is a loss to our society that such references are uncommon outside of Church other than calendric references such as St. Patrick’s Day and St. Valentine’s Day. Make space in your family room or dinner table for an Advent wreath. Lavishly decorate for Christmas and Easter. They cheer the spirit and serve as inspiring symbols of our faith. One family of my acquaintance took it upon themselves to create their own Christian-inspired banners including ones for Lent, Advent, Pentecost, Ash Wednesday, Mardi Gras, Corpus Christi and for the patronal saints of each member of the family. They hang them outside of their home and change them as the liturgical seasons progress.
19. Cultivate devotion to the angels, saints and Our Lady. For millennia, Christians have had recourse to the Blessed Virgin Mary’s intercession. It is sad commentary of contemporary Christian society when such a thing as a Marian devotion raises an eyebrow among those who wish to judge others. Mary serves as the perfect model for all Christians — for men, women, children, teens, mothers and for anyone who has sought to develop a life centered on Christ.
20. Join parish prayer groups and Bible study groups. Parish prayer and study groups are a great opportunity to meet other Christians who are struggling with the same types of feelings and questions about the faith. As St. Cyprian of Carthage reminds us, “Be constantly committed to prayer and to reading Scripture. By praying, you speak to God. In reading, God speaks to you.”
21. Evangelize. The advantages of evangelizing far outweigh the emotional encumbrances and possible discomfiture one might feel. First, we have the opportunity to explain our beliefs to others who might not understand them. Second, with the Holy Spirit’s assistance, we might even convince others of the wisdom and reality of our beliefs. Trust in Christ and allow him to speak through you.
22. Pray the Angelus. The Angelus is a short prayer that is flexible enough to be used as an individual or group devotion. It’s a liturgy dedicated to that cosmic-altering moment of Christ’s Incarnation on Earth. With a gentle ringing, the faithful are reminded to pray three times each day: at 6am, noon and 6pm. Think of the three times when the Angelus bells call us to prayer as opportunities for conversion and peace. No matter what you’re doing, use the pause to give thanks to God. Take the time to accept his love and his healing. The formulaic nature of the Angelus prayer offers a refreshing, mindless simplicity that allows us to be in the moment, God’s moment, three times every day. If you live or work out of hearing range of a church’s bells, you can easily set your wristwatch or phone to alert you. One bell’s ringing is as good as the next.
23. Pray more deeply. For two millennia, Christian saints have passed on their thoughts on prayer and yet too many of us ignore this important aspect of our lives. St. John of the Cross wrote, “Whoever flees prayer, flees all that is good.” St. Ephraem offers a more practical perspective. For him, prayer forms virtues in our hearts — it protects us from anger, pride and envy. Mother Teresa of Calcutta taught that prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself. Prayer is not so much a way to find God as a way of resting in him. Prayer was never meant to be a burdensome duty. It is a privilege that we have to communicate with the God that created us. These are joyous moments. Without prayer in our lives, what chance do we have of knowing the nature of True Love (1 John 3:11-18)?
24. Seek spiritual direction. A magnificent resource we have as Catholics are the many religious and priests who serve the Church and, if approached, can be at our disposal to offer spiritual guidance.
25. Don’t give up hope. In our weakness, the Holy Spirit helps us. Even in our spiritual confusion, when we do not know in what direction to turn, the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us when our groans express that which words cannot (Romans 8:26). If we willingly give up our access to God’s grace, if we do not reach out to accept God’s outstretched loving hand, we block him out of our lives. It is in our darkest hours of disappointment that God seeks to reach out to us.
26. Petition your political leaders. In a democracy, every voice must be respected — not just the loud, obnoxiously nihilistic ones. We have the right to free expression, especially when people are trying to shut us out. Speak up and allow the Holy Spirit to do the talking for you.
27. Pray constantly. In developing any relationship, one must set aside time specifically dedicated to being together with that person. When developing a relationship with Christ, that time is spent in prayer. Without an active spirituality, religion becomes little more than magic. Time spent with Christ in prayer will illuminate and magnify your life profoundly.
This list is neither definitive nor complete. It is simply a list of ideas for small-scale growth. I welcome all Christians to consider this list and take away what they will. Our principal concern as Christian evangelizers and apologists is that evangelization begins first in one’s hearts. It is there that God seeks to convert the converted. It is only then, when we are ready, that he sends us out among the nations. When we evangelize, we announce to the world that Christianity is vibrant, effective and faithful. We do so because if we are alive in faith, we can’t but help sharing that joy with others. The world has its problems and God is the solution. As Mother Teresa said, “We are his hands, his feet, his smile, his patience. When we love because of his will, we make God present; we make him ‘touchable’ as you could say. We can make his love material.”