We’ve all been called to different vocations, but we are all called to holiness. To illustrate that, I asked a couple of people how they prepared and carried out their Lenten practices. I asked a few questions and my friends gave me their answers below. Take from it what you will and realize that we can all learn and grow from one another as we walk with the Lord—especially as we approach the holiest time of the year.
Sr. Louis Marie. I am currently taking graduate classes for a Masters in Philosophy, and I have a Bachelors in Biology and Secondary Education. I am a perpetually professed member of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, MI.
Usually, I begin to think about what will be my Lenten practices a few days before Ash Wednesday. Sometimes I am even inspired to change them part way through the first couple of weeks by the Holy Spirit. He is in charge after all! I usually try to choose a tri-fold of practices, the first regarding temperance in food or sometimes entertainment, the second regarding cultivation of virtue in my relationships with others and the third, regarding my prayer life.
I don’t really think I am doing things drastically differently from years past. Sorry to disappoint! But I find it is God who does things “differently” each year, and not so much me.
I admit that my preparation as a Sister is very much tied to the first question since my personal life is my religious life, however, part of the joy of being a religious community is the extra “help” I receive in being aware of and walking on the way with the Lord with my Sisters. Our life together is profoundly Liturgical. This means that every day from the wee hours of the morning until my head hits the pillow, I am reminded every time we gather to pray the Divine Office or participate in daily Mass that, guess what? It’s Lent!! The rich Scriptural readings that our Church gives us for these 40 days in her liturgies washes over me every year! Also, Community customs such as simpler liturgies, decoration in the chapel, and particular penances and customs through Holy Week make our journey with Jesus very tangible and even, in a sense, literal.
I think the number one principle is that you recollect, remember, internalize, etc. through prayer that it is God who does the work of our sanctification not us, albeit with your consent. We show this consent by taking up these practices, but it is not the practices in themselves that are pleasing to the Lord, but the love and the trust with which we do them. If I never eat chocolate throughout the whole of Lent, but find myself snapping at my brother or sister, where is the love in that? If a slip here and there in my practice (I am overcome by the wafts of fresh chocolate chip cookies and find myself half way through one before I am even aware of what I am doing, etc.), but strive to do them with openness to the workings of God in my soul, with a contrite heart and humble spirit, with true love for Him made manifest in my love for my neighbor, then I have truly walked with the Lord these 40 days. So how do you prepare for Lent? Prayer. Talking with the Lord about HIS will for you, not yours. Letting Him take the lead in everything and trusting that He will keep His promises, and make you a saint as you take up your cross (not the one that you chose, but that He chooses for you),following the Lord on the way.
Engage as much as you are able in the liturgies of the Church! If you aren’t able to make daily Mass, spend a few minutes reading and meditating on the Readings and Gospel for the day. Know that the Lord has personal graces planned for you this Holy Week, and most of all, don’t forget that Easter is an Octave (8 FULL DAYS!) and then a 50 day season! Rejoice with Him when the “strife” is over!!!
Justin Blan, M.A. Student of Church History at the Catholic University of America
Understanding that Lent takes place over forty days is a direct reminder for me of the Biblical precedence one finds written throughout the history of salvation. Just as Noah, the Israelites, or most importantly Christ’s time in the desert for forty days serves as a model of striving for spiritual endurance and renewal, so should we attempt to do the same. In the liturgical season of Advent we joyfully await the coming of the Messiah but now in Lent I try to keep myself aware that we are remembering the moment where the pinnacle of Revelation made possible a renewed relationship with our heavenly Father. So it is a time to put extra commitment into mending and improving my relationship with both God and man. The usual fall-back practices one hears about in Lent is usually something along the lines of giving up sweets like chocolate or sodas, which is certainly a good place to start. In order to become a better brother in Christ to others involves for me, in part, a spiritual discipline that externalizes itself in giving up something that I could certainly do without — like listening to my ipod walking from one place to another. But more than just not doing certain things, I try to do more of other things like spending more time in adoration or paying for a fellow student’s coffee. In trying to spiritually renew myself in Lent I find a basis in going through some sort of small physical hardship in giving up something, as well as putting more of my time in the service of our Lord by doing more activities worthy of Christ’s model.
Well, the fact that I am going to be married soon reminded me that in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony there will an abundance of new-found graces available to both me and my beautiful bride. In that, I am focusing on taking advantage of receiving graces from as many of the sacraments as are available to me. God knows we all need grace and it’s such a gift that He has made special ways available to us through the seven sacraments. With my special devotion to the Eucharist, I am trying to receive our Lord in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass more than just once a week. Whether that be on a Saturday morning or a daily mass at noon the need to receive Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity should be the center of every Catholic’s life and we should never limit ourselves to just doing the minimum requirement. To compliment this practice, I have been striving to go to weekly confession; it has been of the utmost help this Lent. I have never done this before on such a regular basis, but through the limitless assistance it has been to me, I know there is no turning back. These are both practices I plan to keep up even after Lent is over.
While the routine of my life is not centered around a certain rule or channel of ministry like a religious order I try to find a way to be more aware of Christ in myself and others through my vocation as a soon-to-be married man and current graduate student. As a lay person juggling both classes and a job, it can be easy to fit into that narrow routine and only look out for myself and be annoyed at any and all inconveniences that distracts from it. So with Lent I have to make an even better effort to see and hear Christ throughout each day. For example, I take the metro everyday where most people are plugged in to their media devices and pay no attention to each other except when they are bumped into, and more often than not, respond in an irritated or rude fashion. So I try to stay off my phone and actually listen and observe those around me, perhaps someone looks especially stressed or sad so I pray for the angels and saints to intercede and deliver them from their hardship. With that in mind throughout the day, I try to do my best to see Christ in others and to be Christ to others in my life as a layman working in the world and yet not being of the world.
The last two weeks of Lent are known as Passiontide in the Church and is a time of great solemnity. We should mirror that by making it a solemn time in our own prayer lives. Perhaps fast for another day than just on Friday or meditate for half an hour on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord and what that should mean to you. This time is the center of our Catholic faith and as such I would encourage others to truly take a look at ones own spiritual life and find ways to renew it to even greater heights. God be with you all!
Thank you to both Sr. Louis Marie and Justin for their advice and their example! May they be richly blessed and may you all be richly blessed as we head towards Easter and the Resurrection of our Lord!