… we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says,
In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.
Behold, now is a very acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation.
— 2 Cor 6:1-2, from the second reading for Ash Wednesday
For a season that seems to be about focusing on the essentials and getting rid of excess, Lent offers an embarrassment of resources, at least online. It seems like every Christian publishing house and organization has its own Lent page up, ready for you to pray with them. Permit me, then, one observation and one recommendation.
The observation: Lent is a time of spiritual opportunity. Our attention caught by the drama of ashes (“Remember, you are dust…”), we are bold enough, for a few days in the spring each year, to ask “What attention does God deserve?” Given this opportunity, it’s only natural that so many organizations committed to spirituality would want to capture it.
The recommendation: times of opportunity can either be seized or squandered. Seize this one. Among the many paradoxes of human nature is the paradox of choice (there is, perhaps inevitably, a TED talk about it) — faced with too many options, too much to process, we can fear passing up a good opportunity so much that we avoid committing to any of the opportunities in front of us. The array of spiritual resources before us makes it harder, not easier, to figure out what to do for Lent.
So, if you’re reading this, and thinking that you’d like to devote some more time to God this Lent, take the words of St. Paul to heart: now is a very acceptable time. And pick something, some one thing from the resources below, and do that. And then see what God wants to do in response.
On retreat for Lent
One of the most ancient understandings of Lent was as a time of retreat for those preparing to enter the church; this understanding is preserved as the whole church prepares, through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, for the renewal of our baptismal vows on Easter.
There are a number of online retreat options worth considering (in rough order of the amount of time or ambition required):
- On the simpler side, Loyola Press’s 3-minute retreat — with some simple music, images, and prompts for prayer, this is easy to build into a daily routine. (And you might recognize some of the reflection writers if you follow it all the way through Lent.) Also, the 3-minute retreat is a year-round offering, so you won’t have to stop at the end of Lent.
- Creighton University’s Online Ministries offers a set of daily prayers for Lent, keyed to the daily Mass readings. If you’d like to spend this Lent more attuned to the rhythm of the Church’s year, this is an excellent way to do that.
- A contemporary Ignatian retreat, using Kevin O’Brien’s The Ignatian Adventure. If you’d like to get a taste of the style, we published a number of excerpts from the book here at TJP.
- A more traditional in-depth Spiritual Exercises retreat, from the Jesuits at the Spiritual Exercises blog. Michael Wegenka introduced this to TJP readers last year, and they’re getting started again for this Lent.
Giving something up
- One good option would be to gather a group of friends and participate in TJP’s inaugural Do Something Worth Talking About challenge. This first one’s for a day of screen-free time, and has been piloted by a group of TJP readers at St. Louis University.
- And in a “really? we didn’t have this until 2013?” moment, there is now a WhatToGiveUpForLent.com with associated Facebook, Twitter, and email subscriptions, offering to put social media and online updates to spiritual use this year.
Something for everyone
If none of the options above seem to work for you, there are a number of different Lenten resources directories online — one from the U.S. bishops, and another from Loyola Press. Defeat the paradox of choice, and plan at least to read something from one of these sites each Friday in Lent.
What did we miss?
Let us know in the comments below what your favorite online resources for Lent are — or which one of the options above you’re going to give a try.