An Encouraging Word — Small ways to engage in Lent

By Father J. Ronald Knott

Return to me with your whole heart. Joel 2:12

It’s hard to believe, but Lent starts next week. To be honest with you, I’m not excited. With my new year’s resolution barely a month old, I am already a little worn out with working on myself.

That’s my problem every year when Easter comes early. I guess I’ll just suck it up and try to make the most of it. Because of this, I probably need to be more modest in my efforts, rather than set myself up for failure by being too grandiose in my resolutions —  at least this year.

The three traditional Lenten disciplines are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. This year I have tried to think of some simple, workable ideas for the ordinary Catholics, even those who are a little short on time or cash.

Sure, it would nice if all of you could take a week’s retreat, guided by a skilled retreat master, but the average Catholic does not have that luxury. Yes, it would be nice to have so much left over after the bills are paid to write a big check to a charity, but many who read this column may not have that ability. Rather than doing nothing, here are some humble suggestions.

  • Prayer: I suggest a series of mini-retreats, tailored to your personal situation. Maybe a “coffee cup retreat” would work for some — prayer time over a cup of coffee whenever it can be worked in. Another possibility would be to get a “lector book” or download each day’s (or each Sunday’s) readings from the USCCB website to read and reflect on. Yet another possibility would be to keep a journal of things you are thankful for to take to Mass with you on Sunday. Driving to work without music, can be turned into a daily or weekly “car retreat.”
  • Fasting: Many of us eat too much and too often. Maybe fasting this year could simply be nothing more than adopting a healthy eating pattern — regular meals of healthy food with no snacking. For others it might be foregoing alcohol or tobacco or some other favorite habit. The purpose of fasting is not self-punishment as much as it is revelation to self of how little control we have over some of our personal habits.
  • Almsgiving: This year I have decided to clip coupons, make choices based on available coupons and keep up with the total savings. Then at the end of Lent, I will divide my gift between charities such as the CRS Rice Bowl collection, Catholic Charities, Sister Visitor and Kentucky Harvest.

I will of course go through my closets and get rid of surplus clothing. I might even look for a couple of people who are into yard sales and give them all my big items for a 50% share of the profits to go to my selected charities.

Possibilities are endless for those who really want to engage the Lenten season. Where there is a will, there is a way.

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