Lent starts Wednesday, March 6. Have you planned what you are doing for lent this year? The church recommends that we pray, fast and give alms.
Like most things in our faith, these are not separate things, but rather interrelated practices that bring us closer to God and free us for love.
Prayer is a conversation, a dialog with God. It is not just us talking to God, it also is silent listening. It is often in meditative prayer that we recognize those things that separate us from God. What keep you from entering into prayer? What distracts you from prayer. Where your treasure is there your heart will also be. These distractions or things drawing you away from God's presence will give you hints as to what your fast may need to be.
Fasting makes us hunger. When fasting from food, it may make us physically hungry. But perhaps you will fast from social media, or binging Netflix … or other things that distract you from the love of God. We are all created with a space that is meant just for God. But so often we try to fill that space with other things that may not be wrong in themselves - like social media - but that cannot take the place of God and will not bring us to freedom, but rather become habits that enslave us. Fasting makes us hunger for God, creates space for God and through disciple, gives us freedom to love both God and neighbor.
This love, or charity, leads us to give alms. Fasting may also give us the means to give alms. Perhaps you are fasting from buying a coffee every morning or fasting from smoking. That money saved can be giving to a good cause. Perhaps, when fasting from social media, you are less likely to order things online. Money saved can be used for almsgiving. Perhaps your fasting from some activity like video games will free up time. Can you give this time to being present to someone else, perhaps a lonely neighbor or some charitable work or corporal work of mercy?
But remember that in all things, Lent is supposed to deepen our relationship with Jesus, to follow him more closely, and to love God and neighbor more.
Scripture is a wonderful place to start for Lent. There are lots of daily reading and meditations books and apps. Perhaps your parish has some of these available, or you can purchase them yourself (and if you find one you really like, perhaps buy one for a friend):
Bishop Barron's Lenten Gospel Reflections: include the gospel readings for the day, a short reflection by Bishop Barron, reflection questions and space for journaling.
Lent and Easter Reflections by John Paul Thomas: These reflections offer very practical ways to enter into prayer with Jesus, and also offer a simple prayer at the end of each reflection to help you start to pray.
John Paul Thomas also has other daily reflection books for Lent such as 40 days at the Foot of the Cross: A Gaze of Love from the Heart of Our Blessed Mother which help you reflect on the mystery of the Lord's Cross and helpful for people burdened by their own heavy crosses. Each meditation starts with a scripture about Mary the Mother of God and allows you to enter into her ponderings and faithfulness.
Sacred Space for Lent: Lenten reflections on the Gospel of the day by the Irish Jesuits that include reflections to help you enter more deeply into the scriptures
Also Available online:
You can receive Bishop Barron's Daily Reflections via email (note at the time of this blogpost, the site has not updated for Lent 2019): see https://www.lentreflections.com/
Note that the John Paul Thomas reflections are also available for free online or via a mobile app. See: https://mycatholic.life/ for these and other prayer resources
Sacred Space by the Irish Jesuits is also available online for free. See https://www.sacredspace.ie/
If you are looking for a book for prayer in your family, check out Live Lent At Home by Paige Byrne Shortal. It is a day by day book with gospel reflections for parents and children to read together and includes simple prayers and activities.
Other activities and resources for families with children (or catechists) for Lent can be found at Joe Paprocki's Catechist Journey. I really liked the prayer-stick project which may not be a bad idea for adults either!
Lastly, don't forget to check out two resources
The first of thes is the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops site for Lent . Each year, they have a lenten calendar, similar to the more familiar advent calendar. Each day has a short reading, a reflection question, a prayer and a suggestion for an action.
Finally the last resource that every Catholic should be aware of is the CRS Rice Bowl. This pull together Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving in a beautiful and practical way. Information can be found here.
Check with your parish:
Do none of these suggestions feel like they are right for you? Be sure to check with you parish. Many parishes will offer special prayer services, presentations, missions, and workshops during lent. There will be opportunities to go to confession. Perhaps rather than adding reading material, or program, try making it to daily mass or make time to pray the rosary. Also, be sure to check our Diocesan Newsletter eNotes. There are already notices for lenten retreats, days of reflection and other events that may help you enter into Lent and prepare for the great feast of Easter.
Other Resources can be found at these publishers:
Ascension Press: Books, videos, blogs and other programs
Formed.org: on demand video progams and books. Check with your parish to see if they have a subscription
Ave Maria Press: books, booklets and pamphlets
Pauline Books and Media: books and other media
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