Perhaps you haven’t quite decided on a sacrifice for Lent yet (even though Lent started a week ago!). You’re in luck! Here are some guidelines.
Lent is about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We’re in a holy season in which we should be reflecting on ourselves and growing as Christians in a particular way. So, prayer is a great way to do that with a range of levels for all to find a way to participate.
Fasting (and abstinence) can be viewed as a powerful way to pray with our bodies. We deny earthly pleasures and needs and look more to our basic needs as children of God. That basic need is Christ!
Almsgiving is about loving your neighbor. We answer God’s call to us (discovered through prayer) by serving the needs of others. We give of ourselves for our neighbors.
What to Do?
Now, we can either give something up or do something extra, or both! When deciding what to do for Lent, one should consider the sacrifice and the reward at Easter.
Bishop Hennessey of the Boston diocese often says that choosing a discipline is not the same as choosing a sacrifice. He preaches that giving up smoking for Lent is a good discipline, but on Easter Sunday morning, we don’t hope to light up again. Likewise, giving up swearing is not exactly a sacrifice so much as a discipline. On Easter morning, we’re not going to start talking like a sailor. Even a diet is not a Lenten sacrifice but a discipline unless done right. Perhaps the trick is creating a counter measure.
If one were to save the money one uses for cigarettes and give that to charity, it would not only be a discipline but a sacrifice. It would also count for the almsgiving portion. Likewise, saying a Hail Mary every time you feel inclined to curse might increase your prayer life. Even dieting, give up extra pleasures (like desserts) and look forward to them once Easter comes around. You need a reward at the end!
How to Decide?
Some basic things to consider are:
- Will I be able to stick to this? Remember, if you really need to, we may rest from Lenten sacrifices on Sundays.
- Do I have the means to do this? Almsgiving is harder for those financially unstable. Do what you can.
- Do I need (and have) support? Confide in a friend or family member or consider doing something together. Bonus if you decide to come together in prayer around your sacrifice! If you’re able to complete your sacrifice in secret, that’s great too.
- Will I give up if I mess up? Seriously, we mess up. Just get back up and pick up where you left off. We’re not perfect.
Here’s some ideas to help in choosing your sacrifice for Lent.
- Extra Rosary every day. Saint Pio said the Rosary over 30 times a day!
- Say a Divine Mercy Chaplet for someone each day. Making yourself pray for another helps grow your own holiness. It’s okay if you have to come back to the same person sometimes.
- Spend time in front of the Blessed Sacrament. There is no holier place on earth.
- Attend daily Mass. Mass is in itself a great big prayer.
- Participate in the Liturgy of the Hours. At certain times of the day, these prayers are said throughout the world, so you’re not praying alone!
Give it up
- Give up your favorite food. Chips, chocolate, coffee (warn those around you though!)
- Give up your pillow or cozy blanket. When you’re missing comfort, pray for the homeless or those who recently lost everything.
- Give up dessert. Eat only healthy foods, or just vow to not snack after dinner.
- Give up TV. Or your favorite show or network… You decide.
- Give up social media. We spend too much time here. You might find more hours in the day if you try this.
- Give up games on your phone. Again, you may find hours reappearing in your day.
- Skip lunch; pray for the hungry. If you’re fit to fast, you could do this. St. Theresa would do this sometimes as her Little Way to give to God.
- Sleep on the floor. For those physically fit, it’s an old school, hard sacrifice. My middle kid tried this and lasted a few nights, then changed his sacrifice. But he prayed for the homeless.
- Put a pebble in your shoe. Find yourself lacking patience, getting annoyed easily? Making yourself suffer in long-term small ways. A self-prescribed penance can actually grow our humility and patience.
- Buy nothing for yourself aside from basic needs. That’s right, no clothes or gifts for yourself, just food and essentials. Go further and put that money towards the poor.
Work for it
- Volunteer at your parish at least once a week. There’s something for everyone to do!
- Volunteer in your community as often as you can. Someone somewhere needs you. Doesn’t have to be your town. Your parish probably knows all the local shelters, soup kitchens, and closets.
- Work for a neighbor. Find out who in your neighborhood needs some help around the yard or house. If it’s snowing where you are, go out and snow-blow or shovel.
- Offer rides or grocery shopping for someone in need (elderly or handicapped). Everyone knows someone. Take the leap and ask if you can help in some way.
- Pick a daily exercise and stick to it. Should be one you hate but can physically do safely. Sounds like a discipline, but you’ll lighten up come Easter. Also, if you pray for others while doing it, bonus!
For these, it comes down to what you can do. Whether it’s your widow’s mite or you’re blessed to support more, God knows.
- Tithe extra at your parish.
- Pick a charity and make larger than usual donations.
- Pick a new charity each week and make a donation.
- Pay for someone else at the coffee shop or grocery store.
- Buy a few gift cards and leave them around, or hand them out!
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