Lent should help us increase our capacity to love - to grow in holiness - to advance along the path of becoming a saint. What is a saint? A person fully alive and filled with the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit - a person who is full of God's love. It is ultimately a call to mission because the gifts we receive are not meant to be kept to ourselves but to be shared with others. By allowing God to transform us and make us holy, we are more capable of truly helping others. This is where true joy comes from.
In the busyness of life it is easy to forget this goal or to think that holiness is only for nuns or priests and so we get off track or do not advance the way we could or should.
If the goal of holiness seems too far out of your reach then think of Lent as a chance to go deeper in your relationship with God. One of the things that interferes with that relationship is sin. When we fall into sin, we, and the people in our lives, suffer from the effects or consequences. This is where renewal through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and acts of penance come into the picture.
Once we have truly repented from our sins, acts of penance are opportunities for us to do our best to repair the damage our sins have caused. God is so merciful and so he is always providing opportunities for us to make up for our failures and get back on the right track. Lent is one of his gifts to help us with this and penance - prayer, fasting and almsgiving - is a big part of that. The result of our 40 day journey through this desert of Lent should be a new, deeper, intimacy with God and a greater capacity to be filled with his love (Romans 5:5) so that we can love others as he loves us. But...often, we find ourselves going back to the same old pathways of past Lents and end up not really making any progress in love.
Try something new for Lent this year
Often times, when we plan our Lenten practices we arbitrarily choose to give up something we feel is not good for us like chocolate or TV. We do this because we think we're supposed to do this rather than because we see it an integral aspect of improving our relationship with God. I’d like to suggest a different option.
Instead of beginning with what you're giving up, begin with the end in mind. Think about a special grace you want to receive and ask Jesus to bless you with it at Easter; then ask him how he would like you to prepare to receive it - what kind of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving will make your heart most receptive and open to that grace. It would be especially beneficial to ask for something that would help you to grow in love for God and others for his sake or something that would help you to understand how much he loves you.
God loves to give his children good gifts and he is honored and glorified when we ask him for them with faith, hope and love trusting that he knows what is best (See Matthew 7:11). This grace you ask him for could be something you deeply desire, something that is missing in your spiritual or moral life, or, best of all, you could ask Jesus what he most wants to give you.
Here is an example for you:
The grace that you desire could be that you want to have the ability to hear the voice of Jesus in your life more clearly so that you can follow his will more diligently and show your love for him this way.
So for Lent you would begin to form the habit of doing things that will help open your heart to receiving that grace at Easter. It's that simple!
Here are some small possible steps you could take to put yourself in a position to hear him more clearly:
1. Look at your life and think about what noise is drowning out the voice of Jesus. What interferes with you hearing his voice?
2. Then decide what to do to remedy that.
- You might give up listening to music in the car or when you exercise or having the television on for background noise when you are at home.
- You could commit to 30 minutes of silent prayer every day. Here is a wonderful guide to this type of prayer.
- You might regularly spend time with people who are negative and drag you down or tempt you to live a lukewarm Christian life; who gossip continually or make you feel bad about yourself. You could possibly consider spending less time with them for Lent.
- Another option might be giving up social media to silence the voices of advertisement, negativity and comparison in your mind.
What is most important is that your Lenten penance prepares your heart to receive the gifts that God wants to pour out upon your life!