Each year Catholics face a bit of a question: What am I supposed to do for Lent?
Do you give up chocolate? Do you give up sodas? Do you give up alcohol? Do you pray a little more? Do you go to daily mass? … There is a sense in which these are all good things, but there is a definite temptation that can appear when preparing for Lent: It’s easy to make Lent a sort of “Catholic New Year’s Resolution.”
Does this sound familiar?—It’s a little too familiar of a temptation for me. A few years ago, I decided to “do Lent big.” I gave up alcohol and desserts, and I increased my exercise, undertaking a sort of Lenten boot camp. But with the arrival of Easter, what was I prepared for? Was I any more ready, more open to the mystery of the Resurrection in my life? Honestly, not really.
Last year in contrast, my life was busy, so I kept it simple. Instead of the boot camp version of Lent, I just wrote a quick note of gratitude for each day. And here’s the thing: I found myself a little more kind and a little more grateful for those around me. In effect, I was more open and ready for the Resurrection; I was ready to fully participate in Easter.
There is a temptation within Lent to turn the experience into a sort of Catholic-self-help or a Catholic-dieting plan. It’s easy to turn our attention towards the Lenten push-ups rather than the Lenten prayers. Yet, that misses the heart of the season.
Lent is our opportunity as believers to prepare for the Resurrection, both in repairing and strengthening our relationship to God and reaffirming our love of others. During Lent, we are asked fast, give alms, and pray in order to prepare our communities and our hearts to encounter Christ within the mystery of the Resurrection—Lent seeks to form us to be more attuned to the little day-to-day resurrections which occur within our lives.
As we prepare to enter Lent, here are a few reflection questions to help you make your Lenten journey more about prayer than push-ups:
How should I fast? What should I give up for Lent?
Are there things in my life to which I’m holding on too tightly? Is there anything in my life right now which I might be clinging to more firmly than my relationship with God? Is there anything in my life right now which is distracting me from anticipating hope or Easter? Is there something in my life which might need to be lessened to make more space for God?
How should I “give alms”? What should I give away for Lent?
In what ways do I need to grow in generosity and gratitude? How am I being called to share my gifts, graces, possessions, and myself with others? In what ways can I reach out and contribute to my community more? How am I called to share God’s love and care for others during this Lent?
How should I pray in a special way? What can I do to pray and prepare for Easter?
Where does my relationship with God need more attention? Where does my relationship with God need to grow into more of a friendship? Is there a grace, virtue, or place of healing needed in my faith this Lenten season? What sort of prayer practice might help me grow in faith, hope, and love this Lent?
Here is a prayer to help you on your Lenten Way:
Let me fast—
Giving up the excess and distraction in my life,
So that I can hold on tighter to Your Son.
Guide my fasting, Lord,
So that it places You
At the center of everything I am.
Let me give alms—
Holding all I have and possess as generous gifts from You,
Giving to those in need, as a way of sharing and returning those gifts,
So that I grow in gratitude and wonder for the ways You love.
Guide my giving, Lord,
So that it molds my heart
To be more like Yours.
Let me pray—
Bringing to You all my hopes, fears, and struggles,
Deepening our relationship and my reliance upon You,
So that no matter the deserts, the crosses, or the joys in my life
I’ll remember You are with me, always.
Guide my prayer, Lord,
So that my encounter with You these forty days
Draws me deeper into the mystery of Your love.
[Editor’s note: this prayer by the author was originally published by the Jesuits of the U.S. Central & Southern Province]