Lent is supposed to be a season of a successful journey through the desert of penance to a new land and a new, deeper intimacy with God. But often, we find ourselves falling back on the same old pathways.
The journey through the desert to the Promised Land was not supposed to take forty years! Lest we continue to wander around in circles getting nowhere, like the Israelites, I’d like to suggest some new Lenten ideas. The goal is to help you approach the season in a new, fresh way so it can become the experience of lasting change that it is intended to be.
However, before you read further, here’s a word of caution. Don’t attempt to follow all or even most of my suggestions this Lent. The goal of Lent is to build new virtues into our lives. A virtue is essentially a good habit. Now to create a new habit, you need to bear down, focus, and do something consistently for just about thirty to forty days (what a coincidence!). Let’s face it—you can’t focus consistently on forty new things at once.
So sometime early in the season, take thirty minutes to pray. If you need to get up early or stay up late to get the thirty minutes of quiet, do it! Turn off your phone and computer. Don’t put it off and don’t allow interruptions.
So in your quiet time, seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Ask him to be your Lenten spiritual director and to attract you to the ideas in the following list that are right for you at this moment in your life. Then look over the list and make a few practical Lenten resolutions based on what you feel most drawn to do.
You can start with just one thing. But don’t start with more than three. Be careful. If you try to do too much, you may not succeed in anything!
1. As you remember the ashes you received on the first day of Lent, pray for humility daily. Spend your Lent learning about the virtue of humility and the dynamics of pride. Seek out opportunities to humble yourself in your relationship with others. Make it a resolution never to miss an opportunity to give someone else the credit.
2. Try a new kind of fasting. Scrutinize the actual time you spend exposed to media. The average American has nine hours per day of media exposure. Cut your media consumption to open up time for prayer, service, and personal relationship with others. For example, use at least some of your commute time to listen to Catholic radio, talks, or audiobooks instead of news, sports, and music. By the way, texting and other activities on your phone count as “media.” I would repeat Pope Francis’ challenge—check in with God’s Word at least as often as you check your various phone notifications. You can install a free app like Laudate and iBreviary that will give you access to God’s Word on your phone. Get used to using these apps in place of some of the time you spend doing other things on your phone.
3. Make an extensive examination of conscience and plan to get to confession. For your examination of conscience, read 1 Corinthians 13 and replace the word “love” with your name. See if it rings true.
4. Cut back purchases of luxuries and give the saved money to the needy. If you saved four dollars per day by not purchasing a beer, a Starbucks coffee, or a junk food meal, you’d have 140 dollars by the end of Lent. That would feed a family in Haiti for four months.
5. Commit to a daily quiet time of prayer each day. Listen to God; don’t just talk. And listen twice as much as you talk, either by reading his inspired Word, resting silently in his presence, or a combination thereof.
6. Spend the first available five minutes each day thanking God for everything you are grateful for … before you ask for anything!
7. Pray at least one Psalm per day and explore the Liturgy of the Hours. Free phone apps like Laudate and iBreviary have made this amazingly easy to do.
8. Find a form of Lenten fasting appropriate for you, given your age, state of health, and state of life. It could mean fasting from one particular food or drink that you really like, such as the classic “giving up chocolate for Lent.” Or it could be fasting on certain days, like Wednesdays and Fridays, on bread and water, or fasting from solid food between breakfast and dinner. There are so many different ways to do it!
9. Get to daily Mass. If that’s impossible, try to go at least on Fridays as well as Sundays.
10. Learn the list of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Identify one that you are weak in, and begin strengthening it consistently this Lent.
11. Watch Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ during Lent or Holy Week and invite someone to watch it with you. After it is over, pray together and discuss it. You can use Ascension’s book, A Guide to the Passion to help answer questions that may arise during the discussion.
12. If you don’t already, commit to reading a portion of Scripture every day. If you already read Scripture, commit to memorizing Scripture. When you read something that really stands out, that’s what you should memorize. Write it down, and repeat it several times per day for a week before choosing another portion to memorize.
13. Spiritually adopt someone from your parish who is preparing to receive the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil, praying for him or her daily throughout Lent. If possible, attend the Easter Vigil so you can share the joy of all who are coming into full communion with the Catholic Church.
14. Spend some time each week in Eucharistic Adoration. The Eucharist does not have to be exposed. Any time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament counts! If you can’t do a full hour, do thirty minutes. If that’s not possible, go out of your way to stop by a church and make a short visit of even a few minutes. Find a way that works with your schedule to regularly incorporate adoration into your life.
15. Make the Confiteor a daily prayer during Lent recited in the morning, or before bed. Remember and identify with the publican as you beat your breast three times.
16. Instead of secular videos for weekend entertainment, try some videos that will enrich your spiritual life, like those on the Ascension Presents YouTube channel.
17. Recite the Our Father every day, slowly and thoughtfully. Expand to three times per day. This is a prayer habit very widespread in the early Church.
18. Forgive those who have offended you or your loved ones. Pray for the person who has been the most hurtful or annoying.
19. Develop your relationship with St. Joseph. Ask him daily to join with you in praying for all the important fathers in your life.
20. Plan a contemplative retreat this Lent. It can be just a morning out in nature with your Bible and your journal. Or it can be a morning in front of the tabernacle. Or it can be an overnight at a monastery or retreat house.
21. Get to know the Fathers of the Church, the great teachers of the first centuries after the New Testament.
22. Invite someone who doesn’t regularly attend Mass to come to Church with you. But also invite them into your life and your home. After all, your family is the domestic church!
23. Reach out to the least important, least popular, most ignored person at school, home, or work. In any social setting you are in, seek out and talk to such a person first, before you talk to any of your friends. Then introduce your new friend to your old friends, so that he or she feels less alone or excluded.
24. Read or listen to a biography of a saint.
25. Begin or widen the practice of a family Rosary. Explore the Scriptural Rosary, a book that inserts a brief Bible quote between each Hail Mary, thus making the meditation dimension of the Rosary much stronger.
26. Make it a daily practice to pray for the Holy Fathers’ intentions, which are truly universal, and also at least one particular need beyond the frontiers of your native land.
28. Visit someone lonely in the neighborhood, in the hospital, in a nursing home or in prison. Call or text someone elderly or isolated in your family.
29. Establish the habit of making an examination of conscience each night before bed.
30. Prayerfully consider making a pilgrimage. It could be to your diocesan cathedral, or to a monastery nearby. Or you could make plans to go to Guadalupe, or Rome, or the Holy Land.
31. Before work, chores, or study, make a conscious decision to offer up whatever you are doing in love of God and in loving intercession for some person or special need.
32. Pray regularly for those whose rights and dignity are trampled and for those responsible for their pain. Look for a way to help.
33. Look for opportunities to volunteer for the lowliest, least-desirable jobs, and serve those who are least worthy and least grateful.
34. Find out what the Sign of the Cross really means, and begin making it less mechanically, more thoughtfully, several times per day as a renewal of your personal commitment to your Lord and savior.
35. Learn the Prayer of Abandonment of Blessed Charles de Foucauld. Surrender your possessions, your future, and your life to God as you slowly pray it daily.
36. Give thanks daily for your own cross—the trials and misfortunes in your life—with the confidence that God will turn them to good.
37. Learn the Prayer of St. Ignatius, a.k.a. the Suscipe. Pray it slowly, meaningfully, daily.
38. Go to Mass on Holy Thursday, then spend time afterward in adoration, reading the entire Last Supper discourse of John 13-17.
39. On Good Friday, open up some time, preferably from noon to 3 pm, as a media-free time of silence and prayer.
40. Go to the Easter vigil; if you can’t, read the Exsultet and renew your baptismal vows with holy water. Every time you bless yourself with holy water, you are renewing your baptismal vows. So when you do it, mean it.
EASTER: Don’t just celebrate for one day, but for fifty days, until Pentecost! And don’t abandon the new, powerful habits you’ve built during Lent. Celebrate, but hold your ground until it’s time to make new advances next Lent!
Marcellino D’Ambrosio, aka “Dr. Italy,” writes from Dallas. Connect with him at www.CrossroadsInitiative.com or @DrItaly. For more practical ideas for Lent plus food for Lenten meditation, see his book 40 Days, 40 Ways: A New Look at Lent.