Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving

Staying Strong for
All Forty Days

of Lent

I love Lent! I love the discipline, the spiritual growth and the complete support I get from the Church, my parish, and my friends and family. I love the potential. The curmudgeon in me loves the fact that it's counter cultural to embrace suffering and, to be perfectly honest, the weakling in me probably appreciates the finite nature of the whole thing. 40 days. How much can I effectively and realistically pack into 40 days?

It's easy to start out with high expectations, but I’m reminded of the son in Matthew 21 who started with good intentions and his more praiseworthy brother who actually followed through. Toward that end there are a few ideas I’ve found to be helpful:

  1. Start with prayer. On what areas am I being called to work this year? What course of action will bring about the most effective spiritual growth? It’s most likely I’m being called to bring some balance into my Lenten penances by practicing some form of each of the big three.
  2. Write down specific goals and review them regularly – every Sunday is a good time. This is a good practice for kids and adults. Again, it's easy to start with high expectations which trickle off to a short list of the easiest things leftover after six weeks of lackluster discipline. If I've failed in the past week, rechecking this page helps me to renew the vision.
  3. Another great idea in a similar vein is to work with someone else. I know a Church Lady who met a friend early each day for Morning Prayer from the Divine Office. They kept each other on track and knowing this pious young man would be waiting for her made it easier to get up on those mornings when she would rather have slept in. Morning or Night Prayer together is a great idea for a daily Lenten "date." Other ideas I've known couples to do are a weekly time of Eucharistic Adoration or Stations of the Cross before going on a date and, of course, weekday Masses.
  4. Have a daily check list. Maybe this only works for "list" people, but I find particular satisfaction in crossing things off my list each day. It helps me prioritize and get things done in a timely manner. I'd never want to reduce my prayer life to something I cross off my list each day, but I'd also hate to forget my Rosary until I'm too tired to meditate. I think this method works particularly well with new practices. If I haven't developed a habit, seeing it on my daily list keeps it in the forefront and helps me acquire the habits that turn into virtues.
It's one week until Ash Wednesday and if you don't have a plan yet, it's time to start thinking about it. I'd love to hear how others decide on and keep their Lenten resolutions!

I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.
2 Timothy 4:7-8

Image: Saint Lawrence Distributing Alms by Fra Angelico

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