This year, Lent begins on February 10. For many of us, that date is not even close to the front of our minds. Between now and then, several other liturgical events—as well as events in our own lives—take a high priority. So, it is easy to let the coming of Lent slip by the wayside. In my own life, I have experienced this several times. I will postpone any thoughts or plans for Lent. A day or two before the season begins, I will suddenly realize the proximity of Lent, and will try to rapidly throw together a “Lenten Plan” of fasting and prayer, since that’s what many “good Catholics” seem to do. During this season, we may recall the words of Mark’s Gospel:
“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” (Mk 1:12-15)
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “By the solemn forty days of Lent, the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” (CCC 540) While we ponder this time of Christ’s life, our Lenten practices should not be about finding pride in being “good Catholics” who avoid sweets for forty days before devouring piles of chocolate at Easter. Instead, the season of Lent calls us to repent of our sins, transform our lives and hearts, and develop an intimate relationship with Christ.
If we desire to take Lent as a serious time of renewal, it is important that we do not put off thinking about our plans until the day beforehand, but instead that we actively begin thinking and praying about Lenten practices before that time comes. The particular ways in which individuals center their lives around prayer, the Sacraments, and mortification very greatly. Some individuals prefer to say different prayers or offer different mortifications each week. Other people benefit from praying and reading through books on the spiritual life. Others prefer offering up various small mortifications and prayers for the entire season. Furthermore, other people sacrifice to spend more time attending daily Mass or praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Since Lenten routines change from person to person, ask God to guide you this Lent. Be still, so that you may listen to His voice. Also, find motivation in the words attributed to St. Augustine: “Do you wish your prayer to fly toward God? Give it two wings: fasting and almsgiving.” Together, as a Church, let us prepare ourselves to be transformed and changed this Lent.