Never too Late to Lent

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Are you bemoaning the fact that you didn’t really DO anything for Lent? Didn’t add any extra prayer, didn’t fast from anything, didn’t participate in any almsgiving?

Don’t despair. It’s never too late. Remember Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20)? Those who came late to labor were rewarded equally to those who came first. What matters is that you come, not when you come. The liturgical season of Lent doesn’t end until the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper which is celebrated on the evening of Holy Thursday – April 2 this year.

Now, to confuse you even further, while the liturgical season of Lent ends on Thursday evening, April 2, the Lenten fast does not end until Holy Saturday. So, depending on how you calculate it, there are anywhere from nine to eleven days left in Lent. Don’t let the temptation to blow off the rest of Lent cause you to refrain from this opportunity to spend the last few days of Lent preparing yourself for the great Paschal feast. Rather, consider how you can still offer to God your sacrifice of prayer, fasting and/or almsgiving. Better yet, try to do something in each of those three areas.

To help you out a bit, here are five suggestions in each area to make it extra easy for you gain spiritual benefit from these last days of preparation.

Prayer

The idea here is to add something to your routine in the hopes that it becomes a regular part of your life. Start small and build on that foundation. For those of you with smart phones, there are many apps out there to make it easy to pray on the go.

1. Do a novena. A novena is a nine-day offering of prayers offered in mourning, in preparation, for a particular intention, or for an indulgence. There are novenas associated with many of the saints (maybe your patron saint has a novena) as well as with the great celebrations of the Church (Easter, Pentecost, Christmas). There are many to choose from – just Google “popular Catholic novenas”. If you start your novena on Tuesday, March 24 you’ll finish up on Wednesday, April 1 – just in time for the beginning of the Easter Tridium that begins with Holy Thursday and extends through Easter Sunday.

2. Pray the rosary.

3. Pray the Angelus (at 6:00 AM, Noon, and 6:00 PM – any of these or just one). The Angelus focuses our attention on the Annunciation and Mary’s fiat or “yes” in response to God.

4. Resolve to commit a prayer to memory in these last days of Lent. And then continue to pray it daily. If you have not already memorized the Nicene Creed you could start there. Or memorize the Hail Holy Queen. Or perhaps the Memorare. Just open up a Catholic book of prayers and choose one.

5. Attend Daily Mass. Mass is the Great Prayer of the Church. Typically about a half hour in length, it is usually possible to find a daily Mass that is convenient for your schedule. Check out Masstimes.org for local Mass times near you. If you can’t attend a daily Mass, then choose to participate in something new spiritually like Eucharistic Adoration or a parish or diocesan sponsored event.

Fasting

The Lenten season is a season of sacrifice. We offer our sacrifices in union with the great sacrifice that Christ made for us and for our salvation. The idea is to mortify our mortal selves and exercise the power of our will over our senses. Although commonly associated with giving up some food item during Lent, it can be a sacrifice of anything to which we are overly attached. Here are some ideas.

1. A food item to which you are particularly attached. It is common for people to give up sweets and/or alcohol. But it could be that morning cup of coffee, salt on your food, eating between meals. It could be adhering to the old practice of the Church which required a fast from midnight in order to receive the Eucharist – later changed to a three hour fast and changed again to the current requirement of a one hour fast.

2. Give up all technology/media that is not directly related to your work – or give up some aspect of it. How about Facebook, video games, television or popular radio? Pick two or three Catholic CDs to listen to on your commute to and from work. There is an excellent selection available at low cost from Catholic Lighthouse Media (often available in many parishes in a display in the narthex or near the church office).

3. Take a break from people … set aside some time for just you and God … a time of solitude. Take a break from clubs and social gatherings you typically frequent. Take some time to retreat. Embrace silence without feeling a need to fill it with extraneous noise from people or from devices.

4. Fast from money. See how little you can spend between now and Holy Thursday. Make a conscious effort NOT to spend any money except on absolute essentials. Give the money you save to a charitable cause.

5. Fast from that one thing that you know you need to give up … the one thing that is taking up too much of your time and/or attention. Only you know for sure what this one thing may be. It likely is the most difficult thing to give up precisely because you are so attached to it. For some it might be food, for some sex, for others technology or working out excessively, or it may be something entirely unique to you. Whatever it is, give it up for the remaining days of Lent.

Almsgiving

Almsgiving is our way of providing for the needs of others with our treasure, time and talents. There are many ways of donating to those more needy than ourselves.

1. Visit a shut-in or offer to give them a ride. This could be a family member who you do not see very often. Or it could be an elderly member of your parish. Some parishes have a service to provide rides to Mass for those who cannot drive themselves.

2. It’s springtime! Offer to tidy up the yard of an elderly neighbor, participate in your parish spring cleanup (if your parish conducts one), clean up the gravesite of a loved one and, if allowed by the cemetery, plant some flowers.

3. Do you have a particular talent? Perhaps you could volunteer to fix someone’s computer, prepare taxes, clean someone’s house, make meals for a sick member of your parish or neighborhood. The list here is endless. Look around and I’m sure you will see many opportunities to serve.

4. Donate money to the local chapter of Catholic Charities or to other initiatives for the poor that your diocese has identified. Put a few extra dollars (or more) in the basket for the 2nd collection. Or, better yet, set up online giving (if offered by your parish) and designate your gifts for both regular collection and the 2nd collections. If you live or work in an area where there are many homeless, stop and actually make eye contact with someone who is begging. Give them a heartfelt greeting and a bit of money.

5. Donate household items to a local charity. Those extra clothes, shoes, pieces of furniture, books that you have could undoubtedly be put to good use by someone who is less fortunate. Resolve to collect a specific number of items per day for the remainder of Lent and take them to a donation center after Easter.

And, last but not least, take advantage of the opportunity for forgiveness by participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation – Confession! It’s not too late!
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