Most people know that Lent is a time when we give up something we like as an offering to deepen our relationship with Christ. Some people give up something and also add on a spiritual discipline like praying the rosary everyday. But did you know that there are actually three focuses, or pillars, of Lent? This means that most of us are only focusing on one aspect of Lent! Two, if you’re really cool. Get ready to go deeper, here are the three pillars of Lent and how we can start practicing them today (even though Lent is already underway).
This is the one that most of us are very familiar with. We give up candy or alcohol or that extra hour of TV every night. Additionally, all Catholics abstain from meat every Friday during Lent and fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Fasting is a great physical and spiritual practice. Fasting is the physical practice of the spiritual knowledge that this earthly life is not our final destination, nor that its good are the best goods! It’s no wonder fasting gets the most press during Lent, it is the most radical looking practice to non-Christians!
We should already be praying but Lent is a time to deepen our prayer lives or expand them in a new way. If you already read Scripture everyday, add in the Rosary during Lent (and offer it for a specific intention– like the people you encounter each day who annoy you). If you pray the Rosary everyday, try adding in the Liturgy of the Hours (you can download the Laudate app to get these on your phone). You could also read spiritual works of the saints, maybe pick a saint you’re not terribly familiar with or a work of a popular saint you’ve never read before. (a favorite of mine that’s seasonally appropriate is St. Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Last Conversations).
This Lent, make prayer about ridding yourself of outside distractions and attachments and really focusing on God, His sacrifice, His love, His person.
Finally, the third pillar of Lent that often gets overlooked. Giving alms really just means giving to charity. But think about this for a minute, giving is supposed to be a central part of our Lenten practices. Why is that? It’s because Lent is about learning to grow deeper in Love and when we grow in Love, it naturally has to pour out. We give because we were first given to.
Even though Lent is a time of penance and reconciliation for us Catholics, that doesn’t mean that all people have to go through this as we do. So when you’re donating to charities this Lent, make sure to include a small “treat” for the poor to let them know that they’re not only being taken care of but also delighted in. If you buy socks to donate to a homeless shelter, buy some in pretty colors rather than white that will get dingy easily. When you’re helping to stock a food pantry, include cookies or snacks so that those people can celebrate at home (who knows if they have birthdays or anniversaries to celebrate!). If you can only donate money, donate just $5 more than you think you can and give up treating yourself like you normally would to make up that balance.
Almsgiving is about giving from our excess– our excess money, time, and resources, but also our excess joy, goodness, and love. We all need these things, so it is good to spread them around!
This Lent, make sure you’re practicing all three pillars! It’s a sure-fire way to amp up your spiritual life, fall deeper in love with Christ, and prepare well for Easter.