Beginning with Sunday Mass, there are countless ways to get in touch with the Church’s spirit of Lent. There are plenty of opportunities to engage in prayer, fasting, and charity. Here are some activities you can use to enter into the spirit of the season:
Remember your own Baptism. If you have memories of your Baptism, share them with your family. If you or other family members have baptized children, ask: How did you feel as you brought your child to the font? If you can, ask your parents about your own Baptism, Confirmation, and First Communion. Think about what it means to be part of the Body of Christ through these sacred moments.
Create a prayer space in your home. A small table with a purple cloth and a cross or candle on it is all you need. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t go to your prayer space to pray every day. Set it up in a place where you will see it as you come and go; let it be a quick reminder to raise a prayer of thanks and praise to God.
Bless your children. If you don’t do so already, let Lent be a time to begin blessing your children by making the Sign of the Cross on their foreheads. We all need that reminder of our connection to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Clean out, give away. Make traditional spring-cleaning symbolic of the interior cleaning and clearing of clutter that Lent calls all of us to undertake. As part of your cleaning, select items or articles of clothing to donate to others. If you’re giving them to someone you know, accompany the gift with a small note detailing a happy memory you associate with the item (e.g., “I wore this on my first date with my husband. May it bring you joy!”) to add a personal touch.
Set out on a journey. As the Hebrews journeyed for 40 years in the desert to the Promised Land, we too journey to Easter through the 40 days of Lent — and not always in a straight line. Real spiritual growth often takes a more meandering path. Reflect on this aspect of the season, either alone or with family and friends, by mapping out and then walking a meandering path in your neighborhood or in a nearby park or woods. Create stopping points along the way at which you can pray — for friends, relatives, the neighborhood, our world.
Practice and seek forgiveness. Forgive someone for a wrong or hurt, and ask for the forgiveness of someone you’ve hurt — or at least take a first step. Talk to your priest or trusted friend or adviser and move toward reconciliation. Also take time to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation. Even if you aren’t ready to celebrate the sacrament, participate in your parish’s Lenten Penance service and think about how sin breaks our relationships with others and with God, and how we all yearn to be healed and made whole.
Celebrate spring. We often think of Lent as a season of harshness and privation. But Lent is also a springtime season that celebrates new life soon to be born. To help you reflect on this period of renewal, visit a local farm and learn about planting or watch the newborn animals discover the world for the first time. Practice good stewardship of this new life by lending a hand to a project that helps protect the environment or prevents mistreatment of animals.
Share in God’s generosity. Jesus’ death and Resurrection is the ultimate gift to us. Remember all the gifts God has given you, and imitate God’s generosity by increasing your offering to your parish and to outside charities, and keep it up throughout the coming year. Try to see these offerings as sharing in the love and generosity of God, a love and generosity that are stronger than sin and death.
Work for justice. Sin isn’t just personal; it’s also social. And the Church strongly proclaims that reconciliation and working for justice go hand in hand; neither is optional for baptized disciples. There are numerous organizations working for justice on all levels of the political spectrum, locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Explore the Church’s documents on social justice (Just Peace is one of many sites where you can find these writings). Investigate, discern, and get involved.
Simplify. Try to keep things simple as a family. So many of us are spending so much of our lives in a relentless pursuit of more stuff. Try to rediscover the simple joys of being together. Don’t be discouraged if this doesn’t always go well. If we were perfect, what need would we have of a Savior? “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,” the Church sings at Easter, “that won for us so great a Redeemer!”
Spend time with the Blessed Sacrament. We can never fully plumb or exhaust the mystery of God’s presence in the Eucharist. We all would benefit from some extra time spent at church in God’s presence before the tabernacle, adoring and contemplating the gift of God’s own self to us. This eucharistic Adoration, like our eucharistic celebration, is a way to praise and thank God with our prayers and with our lives, to help us participate in Christ’s redemptive life, to strengthen the entire Body of Christ, and to help us be Christ in our own lives. Thus our eucharistic Adoration comes out of, and leads us back to, our community celebration of Sunday Eucharist.
Pray! Offer a brief prayer of praise in the morning and in the evening. Start, return to, or continue praying the Rosary. Start with as little as a decade if that is all you have time for. Talk with Mary, the Mother of God, whom the Church holds up to us as the perfect model of discipleship. Ask her to help you always say “yes” to God’s will, as she did.
Scrubbing is spiritual? Here’s how…
Cleaning the house — scrubbing, sweeping, dusting, washing — may not seem like a likely conduit for spiritual growth, but we can use this task, like any other, to enter into the Lenten season and help ready our hearts for Jesus. Here are a few examples of how ordinary house-cleaning tasks can become spiritual exercises:
When washing: Reflect on the water you use. Without water there is no life on this Earth. Every drop of water holds the breath of God’s creating Spirit. Be mindful of how you and your family use this precious resource, and take a moment to pray for those who don’t have clean water. What can you do this Lent to help bring safe, clean water to places where it is desperately needed?
When cleaning the kitchen: Remember that this, too, is an act of love. It’s more than scrubbing surfaces and throwing out stuff from the refrigerator that you can’t identify anymore. It’s about more than food safety and shiny counters. It helps your family be your family. It is serving others. It is discipleship in action.
When clearing the pathways to your home: Remember that these are the places through which we welcome others to our homes. In Lent, as in Advent, we are preparing to welcome Jesus anew in our hearts, we are making straight his paths. As you clean these places, give thanks for all the ways Christ comes to you on these pathways — all the opportunities they give you to be welcoming, to practice patience, to reach out to others.
Daffodil photo courtesy of creativecommons.com