In her wisdom, the Church gives us the seasons of Advent and Lent to draw us out of the humdrum of our daily secular lives and back into the depths of our relationship with God. But she does so, not to give us a “special” time of devotion. These seasons are supposed to call us back to the devotion we’re supposed to have for our Lord every single day.
So what happens when Advent and Lent become nothing more than routines to be suffered through on our way to the feast days?
Like so many other Catholic voices out there, I want to challenge you to make this Lent special. Don’t let it me another humdrum Lent. And let’s do this From the Abbey style – with some specific strategies that you can really use to make this Lent a truly holy time – and to catapult you into living a holy life more consistently after Lent is over.
Strategy 1: Sacrifice for Love & Solidarity
You’ll hear many Catholic teachers tell you that you don’t need to make a Lenten sacrifice. Now, the hearts of these teachers is in the right place. They are trying to combat the error of minimalism – the attitude that says, “What’s the least I need to do to be a ‘good’ Catholic?” Too many Catholics use the Lenten sacrifice as a legalistic minimum, without exploring the depths of its meaning and purpose. So Catholic teachers are telling people to skip the sacrifice, and instead to do something more meaningful. But the Church gives us the Lenten sacrifice for good reason! Don’t skip it. Enter into its full meaning instead.
Lent has traditionally been the major time of preparation for those entering the Church. Your parish may have RCIA candidates who go through a series of special ceremonies (like the “Rite of Acceptance)”) and blessings. Traditionally Lent has been a time of sacrificial penance for adults entering the Church. They went through some rather “harsh” penances in order to turn away from their old life and embrace their new life in Jesus. Christians within the Church would often voluntarily take on penances during this season as well, in loving support and solidarity with those seeking entrance into the Church. Like many practices, this one moved from a voluntary act of love to a routine tradition. Through the years the focus shifted from solidarity with the catechumens to a personal act of purification and penance. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this shift in focus, except that minimalism has stolen even that bit of meaning from us.
The Lenten Sacrifice Challenge
So let’s join together in From the Abbey to re-capture the original meaning of the Lenten Sacrifice. There’s nothing wrong with choosing a sacrifice for personal purification and penance. But lets’s also perform our sacrifice in loving solidarity of those preparing to enter the Church! The Postulant Membership of From the Abbey has two people who are currently in RCIA. Please offer your sacrifice for them, for the catechumens in your own parish, and for all of the catechumens in your diocese.
Strategy 2: Start a New Spiritual Habit
In place of the Lenten sacrifice, many Catholic teachers are encouraging Catholics to do something “positive” that will help them draw closer to God. This might be going to weekday Mass, spending extra time in prayer, or reaching out to those in need. Again, there is nothing wrong with this advice . . . as far as it goes. But if we want to truly honor the purpose of Lent, we want to go beyond merely performing a “positive” action during the 40 days of the season.
Instead, let’s use these 40 days to try to draw our everyday lives back into God’s presence.
The Spiritual Habit Challenge
So let’s join together in From the Abbey to choose not just an action, but a spiritual habit that we can continue throughout the year! Choose something small and doable. I know the temptation is to go all-out and promise Jesus that you’ll spend a Holy Hour with Him every day. But if you’re nowhere close to that, you won’t last through Lent, let alone continue the practice beyond Lent. Instead, do 15 minutes of spiritual reading each day. Pray one decade of the Rosary each day. Vow to smile more at work. Do something small that you can do every day without struggle. You can go beyond that on days you feel like it. But commit to the small habit. And commit to performing the habit beyond Lent.
Strategy 3: Lenten Prayer & Quiet Reflection
Even while we’re establishing habits that extend beyond Lent, we also honor Lent as a special season in the Church year. A great way to do that is to create a more reflective and prayerful atmosphere in your home. The atmosphere in our home can help our entire family remember that we’re in a special season. It can also encourage more silence, reflection and prayer.
The Prayer & Reflection Challenge
Create a prayer table if you don’t already have one. Play soft, reflective music. Even if you don’ make prayer or reflective reading your ongoing spiritual habit, it’s good to spend more quiet time during Lent.
Strategy 4: Get Ye to Confession!
The Sacrament of Confession has been horribly neglected by most Catholics. Lent reminds us that we are mortal, that we are sinners, and that we need a savior. The Sacrament of Confession is the main way that Jesus comes to us to offer His forgiveness, and to strengthen us against our sin.
Get to Confession Challenge
Make it a point to go to Confession during Lent. Maybe go early, and then use your Confession to come up with a plan for your spiritual habit.
Strategy 5: Deepen Your Faith Through Study
Every Catholic should be in the habit of continually learning the faith. To grow in knowledge of the faith is the best way to deepen our intimacy with God. But if you’re not yet in the habit of studying the faith, Lent is a great time to enter into it.
The Study Your Faith Challenge
Here are some great Lent-related studies to consider for Lent.
- The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn with Study Guide
- Jesus of Nazareth Part 2 by Pope Benedict XVI with Study Guide
- The Life of Christ by Venerable Fulton J. Sheen
- Walking with God by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins
- Divine Mercy Bundle
- Lent & Easter Lighthouse Catholic Media Bundle
Bonus Strategy: Don’t Go It Alone!
One of the biggest problems among Catholics is that if they make an attempt to grow in their faith, they usually make a personal commitment and then try to do it all by themselves. But we’re not meant to grow in faith alone. We’re meant to grow as the Family of God! Isolating yourself during Lent is a sure path to frustration.
The Community Challenge
Share your Lenten practices with your family. Join your parish for Lenten activities. Get together with a group of Catholic friends and share this special time with them.
And if you’re looking for a community dedicated to growin in the faith, join the free From the Abbey Postulant membership. We have book chats, document studies, and discssions about spiritual growth all the time.