Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 days of preparation for the Easter season when Christians are called to renew their commitments to spiritual practices like Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving. The season is intended as a time for personal conversion leading up to Easter. The belief is that our consistent participation in these practices — like exercise we do for our physical health — is a form of purification that improves our spiritual well-being by stripping away all that is unnecessary and by becoming more mindful of our ultimate dependence on God in our lives. Lent is an annual opportunity to grow in our faith, which means it’s about much more than giving up unhealthy foods or treats, as you may have done when you were a kid. It is about abstaining from whatever is unhealthy in our lives — gossip, laziness, lack of social conscience — and, most importantly, taking concrete steps to do something more. Challenge yourself this year, and go beyond the clichés of “giving up” something. Now is a great time to take stock of your spiritual life, and to grow in it. Not sure where to start? Check out these 25 ideas:
1) Use BustedHalo’s® FAST PRAY GIVE Lenten Calendar every day to find a new and unusual way to enter into the traditional spiritual disciplines of the Lenten season. Somehow, for countless people — both Catholic and non-Catholic — Lent has become the time of year to give up chocolate. Busted Halo® decided to approach Lent from a completely different perspective this year. In fact, we’re so bored with the whole chocolate-abstinence routine that we’re actually giving chocolate away to our readers during Lent. Instead of chocolate, alcohol, or tobacco, what if people thought of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving in a broader context? What if those disciplines involved practices like reducing your dependence on electronic devices for 24 hours (fast); contemplating the 1.6 billion people in the world who have no access to electricity for a few moments (pray); and spending the extra time you’ve saved on personal interaction with someone important to you (give)? Or what if people reduced their carbon footprint for a day by using less energy (fast); then reflected for two minutes on the magnificent gift our natural environment is (pray); and finally placed $1 in a bowl they’ve set aside to collect money to be given away to a favorite charity — perhaps one that plants trees — at the end of Lent (give). Honestly, we’ve created a Lenten plan that is completely unflunkable, entirely relevant, and totally inspiring. Sound interesting? Click here to find out more.
2) Make a commitment to reading the Sunday readings before you go to Mass. In the same way that reading up on football players, opposing teams, and coaching strategies will help you experience a game more fully, familiarizing yourself with the readings ahead of time can allow you to experience them in a deeper way on Sunday. (Find the Sunday readings here.)
3) Don’t have time to read all three readings? Then just read the Gospel.
4) Make a commitment to trying something new spiritually. Never tried an hour of Eucharistic adoration? Find a parish where you can try it. Never attended Mass at a parish of an ethnic group that’s different than yours? Give it a try.
5) Think about what you usually spend your money on. Do you buy a few too many clothes? Spend a few too many bucks on iTunes? Eating out? Pick one type of expenditure that you’ll “fast” from during Lent, and give the money you would usually spend to a great local charity.
6)When you first sit down in front of your computer at work, or at the very end of your work day, try a great 10-minute prayer, based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, at Sacred Space brought to you by the Irish Province Jesuits.
7) Go to a weekday Mass one day during the week. Many parishes offer them early in the morning, at noon, or after work. Daily Masses are often more intimate and informal than Sunday Mass.
8) If you don’t have a cross in your apartment or house, buy a simple one and put it in your bedroom.
9) Read the entire Gospel of Mark in one sitting. As the shortest Gospel, it is the most concise story of Jesus’ life, and the cross, a central Lenten symbol, plays an even more prominent role than in the other Gospels.
10) Attend the Stations of the Cross somewhere — lots of parishes offer these during Lent, and often on Fridays. (Or check out Busted Halo’s® Virtual Stations of the Cross.)
11) Get some friends together and attend a Friday fish fry at a parish. Yes, an actual fish fry — not the healthiest thing in the world, but a fun Catholic tradition that’s kind of charming in a throwback sort of way.
12) Turn off your iPod or your car radio on your commute. The silence may be jarring at first, but you may find that you are able to concentrate better and will be more observant of your surroundings.
13) Buy a book of daily reflections and keep it by your bed. Local parishes often offer these for purchase during Lent, and there are some good ones available online. Try reflection books by Edward Hays, sold by Ave Maria Press.
14) Think about a habit that has kept you from being whom God is calling you to be. Consciously give up that habit for Lent.
15) During Lent, we’re called to fast not only from food but from other things as well. Read a great reflection on fasting here.
16) Make a commitment to “fast” from cruel comments about others. So, no gossiping or reading celebrity tabloids.
17) As a part of your Lenten almsgiving, make a point to learn as much about a particular social issue (immigration, human trafficking, racism, AIDS victims, child poverty) as possible. Give money to an organization, related to your chosen issue that supports the dignity of the human person.
18) Pray for somebody. As you’re walking the streets, driving the highways, sitting in your cubicle at work, or going to a movie, pick out a person who appears to be in need, and pray for that person. Be mindful of the words of Philo of Alexandria, who said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
19) Read these Lent FAQ’s from St. Anthony Messenger.
20) Lent originated as a time of preparation for people who were preparing for baptism. Those of us who are baptized use Lent as a time of preparation to renew our baptismal promises at Easter. One of the things we promised (or our parents promised for us) at baptism was to renounce sin.
21) As you are waiting to fall asleep at night, pray the Jesus Prayer silently as a mantra: “Lord Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me.” During Lent, take the money you would have spend on dinners out, clothes or iTunes, and donate to CRS’s Lenten Program, CRS Rice Bowl.
22) While Lent is traditionally 40 days long, there are really 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Wonder why? Read this explanation from U.S. Catholic magazine.
23) Read the Works of Mercy as Jesus describes them in Matthew 25. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…in prison and you visited me.” There are plenty of opportunities available in your own community to put this teaching into practice. Choose an act of service you can perform throughout Lent.
24) Make a list of all the excesses in your life. Think about which ones you could do without.
25) Celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. Can’t remember how? Simply tell the priest it has been a while, and ask him to guide you through it.