Don't give up on Lent
By the time you read this, we are at least two weeks into Lent. But perhaps you feel like we are closing in on a year of Lent.
Lent is a time in which we symbolically join Jesus in the desert for 40 days. This liturgical season emphasizes prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. After the (roughly) 40 days of Lent, we hope to be walking more closely with Jesus so we can more fully enter into the joy of His Resurrection.
During Lent, traditionally we sacrifice something that separates us from Him, whether we choose to swap 15 minutes of sleep for extra time in prayer, or we fast from social media or Netflix. Giving up chocolate may seem frivolous to some, but one year I abstained from chocolate and donated 50 cents to my parish’s food pantry each time I wanted chocolate. My contribution fed a family for a week or more.
In previous years, we have chosen our own deprivation during Lent. We selected the sacrifice; we knew the duration. Control was in our hands.
However, we have been living for 11 months in a pandemic, with sacrifices beyond our control. Gatherings of families and friends have been curtailed, vacations canceled, and celebrations deferred. Those most at risk have been isolated at home, even forgoing worshipping in person with their parish community at Mass.
And those are the lucky ones. Many have lost jobs, suffered debilitating effects from the illness or are grieving the loss of family members and friends to COVID-19.
Plus, this year Lent began during an epic winter storm that knocked out power to almost four million Texans.
These circumstances, which altered our normal way of life in so many aspects, might cause you to rethink the usual manner you approach Lent. But we can still get our hearts and minds ready for the passion of the Lord, even if the usual retreats are virtual and the fish fries are drive-thru.
Deacon Andy Thomas, director of religious education at St. Martin de Porres Parish in Prosper, remembered a quote attributed to Pope St. John Paul II, among others: “Don’t waste your suffering!”
“We all are struggling through this pandemic, regardless of what our beliefs may be regarding the news and the restrictions placed in front of us,” he stated. “Use this suffering that is deep and often painful and unite it to the cross as a powerful prayer for you, your family, or someone else.”
We offer up our struggles, frustrations, and losses to the Lord. We can also recall friends, neighbors, and fellow parishioners whose problems are much greater than ours, and we can lift them up in prayer.
In this year, when the pandemic, social unrest, and a presidential election highlighted the injustices and divisions of society, Dcn. Thomas explained, “Reparation prayer is necessary now more than ever. Consider doubling your time in prayer but focusing on prayers of reparation.”
Prayers of reparation help repair the spiritual damage done by our sins and the sins of humanity. They include the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Divine Mercy chaplet, the Holy Rosary, and the chaplet of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. A quick Google search can get you started.
Deacon Lynn Sowers of St. Andrew Parish in Fort Worth has a simple but powerful recommendation for Lenten prayer: to gaze at a crucifix. Spending time contemplating the crucified Jesus allows us to “recognize what Jesus did for us. Jesus hung on the cross for us – for our sins, for everybody’s sins,” he stated.
Another prayer suggestion from Dcn. Sowers originates from Jesus’ prayer the night before His crucifixion. Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Meditating on that verse in prayer, especially during the pandemic, helps us recognize the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice and place our own desires behind the will of the Father.
The Stations of the Cross are another traditional Lenten prayer that focuses our attention on our Savior’s suffering. If praying the Stations of the Cross each Friday is part of your Lenten habits, take it outside. And bring your family.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Keller, Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Arlington, and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Mineral Wells are among the churches in the diocese with outdoor Stations of the Cross.
A fellow Catholic whose health conditions preclude him from attending Mass in person is planning to take a chair outside to pray during Lent to break the routine of the past year. “When I pray outside, I can admire the natural beauty and remember God created all of this for us. He’s mighty. He’s powerful. He’s merciful,” he said.
Prayer draws us closer to the Lord. Ask the Holy Spirit to be with you as you read the Bible with a prayerful heart. Read and reflect on the daily Mass readings or select a Gospel and read a chapter each day.
Both the Old and New Testaments address the spiritual practice of fasting, which serves to purify us, remove the spiritual clutter in our lives that separates us from God, and increase our reliance on Him.
Due to precautions of spreading the disease, many of us have reduced the activities that normally fill our calendars, which can feel like an involuntary fast from the social engagements we enjoy.
Dcn. Thomas suggested fasting from technology — reducing or eliminating time spent on smart phones, television, internet, news, and social media. Abstaining from the online world is “an avenue to focus on trust and not fear,” he said, and opens extra time “to read Sacred Scripture and the lives of the saints and have quiet dialogue with the Lord.”
The Catholic Church declares Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as days of fasting, and Dcn. Thomas recommended increasing fasting during Lent. “Not necessarily eating less food but abstain from favorite foods and restaurants. For some, not drinking a soda every day may be incredibly painful. Start small — but be consistent and committed,” he said.
Is it possible to fast from gossip, bigotry, or negativity? Or abstain from distractions and time wasters? Ask the Lord what He’d like you to eliminate to give Him more access to your heart.
With about 22 million jobs lost during the pandemic, and 10 million still unemployed, almsgiving is more important than ever for those who are able.
Parish food pantries, often run by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and community food banks have seen increased need for services. Contributions to them transfer quickly to neighbors needing food and assistance with other essentials.
Another organization to consider for almsgiving is Catholic Charities Fort Worth. In 2020, the nonprofit received a surge of phone calls to its Community Care Center, serving 6,320 individuals and families in crisis with assistance with rent, utilities, other financial aid, and resource referrals.
Katelin Cortney, strategic communications director of CCFW, specifically recommends Gabriel Project as a program where donations of time and money can have a significant impact.
Gabriel Project provides practical help to mothers in crisis pregnancies. Cortney said, “Last year, we helped 311 moms through their pregnancies and beyond, distributing $72,000 in baby items and $31,000 in financial assistance.
“We support the mother’s choice of life through prayer, friendship and encouragement, providing emotional and spiritual support, immediate and practical help, pregnancy information, community resources, clothing, and baby items,” she continued.
She suggested that individuals could help by donating money or baby items, coordinating a drive for diapers, or volunteering to walk with a woman through her pregnancy.
Almsgiving is a way we give back to the Lord some of the blessings He has bestowed on us. While giving alms certainly includes financial contributions, we have other resources to offer others, such as our time, our wisdom, and our love.
Call a neighbor or relative. Send notes of thanks or encouragement. Help a senior register for the coronavirus vaccine or drive them to receive it. Encourage your children to make cards for the elderly and shut ins. Take the time to bless someone else.
Dcn. Thomas said, “If you are struggling economically, give less or not at all. It is okay to be honest with your situation. It’s an act of humility that God too will reward.”
Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we can turn away from sin and turn towards God during Lent.
Dcn. Sowers of St. Andrew Parish describes Lent as an opportunity to “join Jesus on a journey” in response to His invitation to “come and see.” On the journey, we can look for ways to show Jesus’ love to others.
The journey is different this year. But Jesus is with us, in the desert, in the suffering, and on the cross. And He will be with us as we celebrate the joy of His Resurrection during the Easter season, which begins April 4 this year and lasts longer than Lent.