If you feel you have had a pretty weak start to Lent, and are wondering what to do, don’t despair.
Lent is the “tough love” program of the Catholic Faith. A kind of spiritual detox, it is designed to cleanse, tone and strengthen the whole person: the body through fasting, the mind through almsgiving and the soul through increased prayer and contact with God.
It is designed to be hard and it is in these first few days that we quickly realise how weak we are, and how much we need God. So, if your first few days of Lent have been a little lacklustre, here is list of nine things you might want to try.
1. Put food back in its place
Giving up some type of food is the number one choice for people in Lent. While this is a wonderful practice, sometimes it can become simply swapping one thing we like for something else. For example, there is no point “fasting” from meat if we are replacing it with salmon steaks. For the rest of Lent, try to have a more detached attitude to food. This might mean accepting whatever meal is put before you (excluding allergies, obviously); ordering your second favourite meal; or buying whatever is on special, regardless of whether you like it. This practice will train your mind to see food in its proper place – as good, but not the highest good.
Each morning, pick one thing from your house and put it aside to give away. Christians are not supposed to give “from the surplus” but from our “substance”, so challenge yourself to pick things that you like. As Lent goes on, the growing bag will be a physical reminder of how much you are blessed, and increase a poverty of spirit
3. The snooze button
Not for nothing does Blessed Jose Maria Escriva describe those first few moments of waking as the “heroic minute”. For those of you who love a good snooze (or five) in the morning, try giving up the snooze button this Lent.
4. The swap
Don’t just give up – fill up. Fill yourself with things that are inspiring, good, wholesome and life-giving. For example, swap watching TV/Netflix with a religious themed movie; read a spiritual classic or the Bible; swap regular radio for Christian music, prayer or a podcast.
5. Give away real money
Each week, withdraw a set amount of money in cash. Carry this with you, and make it your mission to give it away. It could be anything – buying someone homeless a meal, taking a friend out to dinner, giving it in the collection plate, anything, as long as you physically do it. While Direct Debiting is a great and easy way to give, it is important that charity remains an active verb.
6. A person for each day
Write a list of 40 people that are in your life and offer one day of Lent for each. Perhaps, send them a message of encouragement; you never know what people are going through.
7. Go Eastern
If you want to take your Lent fast to the next level, consider looking at the practices of the Eastern Churches. Maronite Catholics (an Eastern Catholic Rite with its historical centre in Lebanon) define fasting as not eating between the hours of midnight (12am) and midday (12pm). Most Eastern Churches have a tradition of a strict ‘Ancient Fast’, gradually giving up meat, dairy and even olive oil (!) as they move closer to Holy Week.
8. Random acts of kindness
This one is especially good for parents with small children. The website www.randomactsofkindness.org is brimming with sweet and creative ideas of how to make another person’s day. Personal favourites are: leaving unused coupons for products at the supermarket, complimenting a parent on how well behaved their children are and leaving a note on someone’s car to tell them how well they parked.
9. Wear a crucifix
In religious orders the word ‘habit’ is as much a noun as it is a verb. By putting on a daily ‘habit’, you remind yourself every day that you are Christ’s and He is yours. Try wearing something that reminds you that you belong to God.
A tenth idea
In the wake of the Royal Commission Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher has asked all Catholics to dedicate each Friday in Lent for the victims of abuse and their families. This is a beautiful reminder that it is not just individuals that “do” Lent, but a time where the whole Church repents.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.” Let Lent be a time to shed the layers of comfort and re-discover the great purpose of existence – to share in the life of God.
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