Lent is a time when Catholics traditionally take on additional spiritual practices (e.g., daily Mass, a daily rosary) or give up things (e.g., no sweets (yet again), no alcohol, etc.). Doing more or making a sacrifice in the traditional categories of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are good practices, and they can be very powerful influences on our spiritual lives. But what if we did something different this year?
When Pope St. John Paul II started his Rhapsodic Theater, it was during the Communist occupation of Poland. He was not allowed to produce grand shows for large audiences. Theater became something more intimate--performed in people's homes, surrounded by a small group of friends, generally with no set and no props. The theater was reduced to its essence, which was the words themselves as communicated by the actors.
To get to the essence of things, we sometimes need to remove all the distractions--"props" as my spiritual director calls them--and focus on what is really happening in prayer. Many people think of prayer is a time to go through their list of rote prayers. They want to pray a rosary, then go through a list of people they've promised to pray for, then the current novena they are saying, then perhaps they read a devotional, and on and on. While none of those things are bad, they can sometimes serve as man-made distractions. They keep us from getting to the essence of prayer.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen said somewhere, when talking about making a holy hour, that we will often need 10-15 minutes of that time just to settle our minds and to quiet ourselves before the Lord. Indeed, in today's society with buzzing phones and endless notifications, we are easily distracted. We need time in our day to simply sit before the Lord.
I saw a woman bring an entire milk crate of materials into church not to long ago. She stayed in church for a long time, and she said a bunch of prayers with her many pamphlets and beads and notes. But I wondered how much she had actually prayed. Did all those things bring her into a deeper union with Jesus, or were they her attempt to "check the boxes" in her spirituality because she thought that more prayers equaled better prayer?
This Lent, let's challenge ourselves to put down the props. Try sitting alone before the Lord with nothing between you and Him. No rosary beads, no spiritual reading, no list of prayers. Just you and Him, talking to each other and listening to each other. It's a vulnerable and powerful type of prayer, and Lent is a great time to start a new habit of prayer or try something new. Focus on what is essential and see where the Lord takes you.