One of the traditions of the Catholic faith that I treasure most is the observance of the Lent. Discipline is not a very popular concept these days, but I think our forebears in the faith, including Clare and Francis, the Desert Mothers and Fathers and many saints, were on to something. Dedicating 40 days to repentance or metanoia – moving beyond our old mindset and “heartset” – to become ready to receive Jesus in a new way can be a wonderful adventure. On Ash Wednesday, I never know what God has in store in the coming weeks, but the experience never fails to surprise and delight me.
There are many personal benefits that can come from Lent such as a more visceral sense of God’s closeness, a cleaned-out closet after a trip to the donation center, pants that fit a little better. But undertaking this yearly “tithing” (40 days is roughly a tenth of a year, after all) of charity, fasting and prayer in solidarity with the poor and the poor in spirit makes it even more transformative.
Cutting out my afternoon snack expands the virtue of self-control. But how much more meaningful it is when instead of focusing on the minor inconvenience of my voluntary hunger (“It’s been 3 hours since lunch—I’m STARVING!”), I remember the skin-and-bones Yemeni boy I saw on TV and offer my momentary discomfort as an act of compassion.
Charity can be relatively easy (giving out of our “surplus wealth”) or it can be of the “Widow’s mite” variety. It’s pretty easy for me to donate money to alleviate suffering—how fortunate I am! But how do I behave at the end of a long, difficult day when all I want to do is be alone with a good book? Can I choose instead to pick up that hundred-pound telephone and call someone who is lonely or isolated (especially this year!) just to see how they’re doing? THAT is a real act of self-giving.
Increasing your daily prayer practice is always a positive step. But joining with others (in person or virtually) to pray the rosary, or for the victims and the perpetrators of violence, an end to Covid, healing of the Earth or whatever weighs on your heart, magnifies the blessing. “Where two or three are gathered in My name . . ….”
Even though we’re a few weeks into Lent, it is not too late. Dedicate the remaining days, in unison with the global Church, to the traditional three-fold disciplines of Lent—or just one of them. You’ll be glad you did and so will all those who will be touched by your efforts, though you may never know who they are.