Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 days of preparation for the Easter season when Christians are called to deepen their spiritual lives through the practices of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. The belief is that our consistent participation in these practices — like exercise we do for our physical health — improves our spiritual well-being by stripping away all that is unnecessary and becoming more mindful of how God is working in our lives. Challenge yourself this year, and go beyond the usual practice 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. Make a commitment to read the Sunday scriptures 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 will help you experience them in a deeper way on Sunday.
2. Use Busted Halo’s Lenten-themed Daily Jolts and MicroChallenges to find new ways to practice the disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Each day of Lent, we’ll offer an inspirational quote paired with a practical, challenging task that you can do that day to help keep your spiritual life on point. You can find these challenges on our website or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.
3. Try a new spiritual practice. Sign up for an hour of Eucharistic Adoration. Attend Mass at a parish that’s made up of people from a different racial/ethnic group. Sign up for a silent retreat or spend at least one hour in silent meditation each weekend.
4. Think about what you usually spend your money on. Do you buy too many clothes? Spend too much on dinner out? Pick one type of expenditure that you’ll “fast” from during Lent, and then give the money you would usually spend to a local charity.
5. Take something on — 40 days of letter writing, 40 acts of kindness, 40 phone calls to the important people in your life.
6. When you first sit down in front of your computer at work, or at the very end of your work day, try a 10-minute guided prayer from Sacred Space based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius.
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 shorter 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. Use Busted Halo’s InstaLent Photo Challenge for daily, creative doses of Lenten spirituality. Post a photo each day and encounter the themes of Lent on a visual, personal level.
10. 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.
12. Get some friends together and attend a Friday fish fry at a local parish. It’s not the healthiest thing in the world, but a fun Catholic tradition to help you abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent.
13. Unplug from your iPhone or turn off 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.
14. 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 the Magnificat or a book by Edward Hays.
15. Think about a habit that has kept you from being whom God is calling you to be. Consciously give up that habit for Lent.
16. Spend at least one weekend or evening volunteering during Lent. Serve a meal at your local soup kitchen. Visit the elderly. Stock shelves at a food pantry.
17. Make a commitment to fast from insensitive, cruel comments about others. So, no gossiping or going down the Twitter rabbit hole.
18. Participate in a spiritual book club or small community of faith. Check out what’s already going on at your parish or pick a book and start your own.
19. As a part of your Lenten almsgiving, make a point to learn more about a particular social issue (immigration, human trafficking, racism, the environment, public education, child poverty). Give money to an organization related to your chosen issue that supports the dignity of the human person.
21. Use the CRS Rice Bowl app to reflect on the realities of people in need around the world and devote prayers, fasting, and almsgiving to changing the lives of the poor.
22. Pray for somebody. As you’re walking the streets, driving the highways, or sitting in your cubicle at work, pick out a person who appears to be in need and pray for that person. Be mindful of the words of philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
23. Get to know your neighbors. Introduce yourself, plan a dinner, or bring food to an older person on your block.
24. Read the Works of Mercy as Jesus describes them in Matthew 25:31-46. Then put this teaching into practice and choose an act of service you can perform throughout Lent.