Living the pillars of Lent
During the season of Lent, Christians are called to deeper conversion and acts of penance. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others.” (CCC 1434)
Below you’ll find suggestions for living out these “pillars of Lent” during each of the six weeks leading up to the commemoration of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. Archbishop J. Peter Sartain has provided the suggestions for prayer. The reflections on fasting come from Patrick Sharkey, director of the Archbishop Brunett Retreat Center at the Palisades; suggestions for almsgiving were compiled by Northwest Catholic staff.
Jesus was tempted three times by Satan in the desert, but each time he chose to give glory to his heavenly Father. We, too, are tempted, in ways as varied as our personalities. This week, let’s become more aware of our temptations, but with a purpose: As they taunt us, let’s say this simple prayer: “Lord, the evil one is trying to lead me away from you. But by your grace, I will follow you alone!”
This week make a conscious choice not to snooze your alarm. If you don’t regularly snooze your alarm, set it 15 minutes early and devote that extra time in the morning to prayer. Conquering our weakness from the first moment of the day helps us develop the self-mastery required for the spiritual life. When we start our day in prayer, we clothe ourselves with the armor of God and are better prepared to face the challenges of the day.
“It is a scandal that there is still hunger and malnutrition in the world!” – Pope Francis
Get a Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl from your parish (or online at crsricebowl.org) and contribute to it every day. Donations from the Lenten program help alleviate poverty and hunger overseas (75 percent) as well as in the Archdiocese of Seattle (25 percent).
Sunday’s Gospel account of the Transfiguration took place six days after Jesus first told his disciples that he would undergo the Passion. Peter was not pleased at this news, but Jesus told the disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” This week, let’s examine the crosses we carry in life and call to mind that Jesus is carrying them for us and with us. We never carry them alone. Every day this week, let’s say to the Lord, “Jesus, you and I will carry this cross together.”
This week create moments of silence by keeping the radio or your favorite smartphone podcast or playlist turned off at home and on your commute. Our modern lives can be so filled with noise and clutter that it becomes hard to hear the voice of the Lord. Quieting our environment is one of the first steps in quieting ourselves so that we can hear the tiny whispering sound of God’s voice.
“In a frail human being, each one of us is invited to recognize the face of the Lord” – Pope Francis
Assist local seniors by driving them to medical appointments or doing household and yard chores. Catholic Community Services of Western Washington has volunteer opportunities in many counties. Visit ccsww.org and click “Get Involved.”
When Jesus met the woman of Samaria at Jacob’s well, he was not put off by her suspicions and skepticism but listened attentively and patiently to her. In so doing, he helped her understand that throughout all her wanderings, it was really he for whom she thirsted. This week, let’s catch ourselves when we complain or become bitter about life, and say instead, “Jesus, help me to see how my unsettledness is my soul leading me to cling more lovingly to you.”
This week remind yourself of the call to be “the salt of the earth” by refraining from adding extra salt or pepper to your food. Each time you are tempted to reach for the table salt, stop and say a short prayer, asking the Lord for the grace to be an example to the world. Not much of a “pass the salt” person? Pass up chips, fries and other salty snacks this week.
Place a box in your kitchen, then add at least one item from your pantry every day. Make sure to include some of your favorite foods. At the end of the week, deliver the box to your parish food pantry or community food bank.
Jesus cured the man born blind, and this loving deed caused quite a stir. We, too, can get caught up in silly factions and political wrangling, all the while remaining blind to the deeper truths of life — especially the truth that only with the eyes of Jesus will we truly see. This week, may our prayer be, “Jesus, I get distracted by my pet peeves and my unhealed hurts. Help me to let go of what does not matter. Help me to see everything with the eyes of faith.”
This week fast from your pride by writing a thank you note to someone who has recently helped you. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins and causes us to think of ourselves as self-sufficient. In reality, we can do nothing without the help of God. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude helps us recognize our neediness, which helps foster the virtue of humility.
“In the poor, we see the face of Christ who for our sake became poor.” – Pope Francis
Meet the poor face-to-face by serving them at a soup kitchen, parish/community meal or homeless shelter. Or join your parish’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference to visit and help the needy in their homes.
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and reminded Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.” This week, let’s pray the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary, one decade each weekday. Each decade will remind us of God’s plan to save us through his Son, and each decade will invite us to reawaken our response to that plan. We pray, “Lord, I have often let my faith grow weak and moribund. Wake me up to your presence in my life! You are life itself!”
Continue last week’s battle against pride by giving up half of the time you would normally spend in front of a mirror. Vanity is another form of pride, which causes us to focus on ourselves rather than others. This week, as you avoid spending extra time in front of the mirror, remember the words of St. John the Baptist: “He must increase; I must decrease.”
Devote some time this week to cleaning out your closet. Help clothe people with limited incomes by donating your gently used garments to a parish or community clothing bank, or a St. Vincent de Paul thrift store.
Holy Week invites us to walk with Jesus through his passion to the Resurrection. This week, let’s pray the Stations of the Cross — either by going to our parish church and walking from station to station, or by praying them privately at home. I find this a very moving prayer, and there are many versions. My favorite is by St. Alphonsus Liguori, which can be found online. “I love you, Jesus my love, with my whole heart. … Grant that I may love you always.”
During this final week try to grow in simplicity by drinking only water. Giving up our drink of choice, be it coffee, soda, a breakfast shake, or anything else, can be a difficult sacrifice to make. As you struggle with longing for your favorite drink, remember Christ’s longing for a simple drink of water on the cross and offer your suffering up to him.
Send the uplifting message of Easter to incarcerated men, women and youth. Notes and cards offering prayers and support will be disseminated by Catholic chaplains during weekly Masses at jails, prisons and youth facilities in the Archdiocese of Seattle. (Use your first name, but no other personal information.) Send them to: Joe Cotton, Criminal Justice Ministry, 710 Ninth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104.
This story originally ran in Northwest Catholic's March 2017 print edition under the title "Pillars of Lent."
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