Recently a young woman approached me and asked if I could give her some pointers for having a really good Lent this year. I didn’t have much time to reflect on it before giving an answer. In reality, I have seen quite a few Lenten seasons as I have been around a long time, although not as long as the Church!
For too long the focus of Lent, for many persons, has been on giving up things for Lent – focusing too much on physical/external things, rather than focusing on the true reality – the inner life.
My response to that young woman was, “Let’s get back to the basics.” So where do we start? Why not start with Ash Wednesday? The Liturgy for the day sets the tone for us. We are told that the focus is on the inner life – prayer, fasting and almsgiving! These are the tools given to us for the deepening of our relationship with God, others and self.
Isn’t it interesting how quickly we have forgotten the first priority of our diocese – enkindling a deeper faith? This was not a goal to be accomplished during a one year campaign, but rather a lifelong pursuit. In the same way, we should not only be penitential in Lent, but develop the lifestyle of a penitent. St. Francis described his band of brothers as “penitents from Assisi”. We should become the penitents of Orlando, offering ourselves not only for the local and universal church, but indeed for the salvation of the world.
So this Lent, let our priority be to keep Ash Wednesday’s challenge as the basis for ensuring that we have a deeper, more meaningful Lent. Let us hear again Jesus saying to us: “When you pray…” As we reflect on those words, let us resolve to work on our prayer life. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, St. Paul exhorts us to pray without ceasing. How do we accomplish this? To even begin, we need to examine our personal/private prayer time as well as our participation in communal/liturgical prayer. Set aside some time each day to spend in prayer. Don’t just rattle off some written or familiar prayer texts, but instead commune with God with words of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and intercession. Explore the possibility of praying, even privately, the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours. Any priest, deacon or religious would be happy to assist you with this. Participate in Mass at least one extra day each week and if you already attend Mass seven times a week, then add at least one half hour each week for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Pray the Stations of the Cross privately or with others. Spending time with Jesus in prayer will be a great boon for your spiritual life.
Let us hear again Jesus saying to us, “When you fast…” Reconsider the Church’s invitation to fast for specific periods. Mark 9:29 reminds us that certain things are achieved by fasting and prayer. Pay special attention to the one hour fast before receiving Holy Communion. Remember that Fridays in Lent are days of fasting and abstinence. Fasting will increase your desire for Christ and His spiritual gifts and these will not be withheld from you as you seek them.
And finally, let us hear again Jesus saying to us, “When you give alms…” Consider almsgiving as a way of carrying out the works of mercy – corporal and spiritual. Lent would be a good time to refresh your memory as to what these are. In this regard, you will be ministering to your brothers and sisters and you will hear Jesus say that whatever you do to the least of His sisters and brothers, you are doing to Him.
May you have a blessed Lent and go deeper into your spiritual life, growing in the love of Christ.
By Father Anthony Aarons, Special to the Florida Catholic – March 6, 2019
Father Anthony Aarons is a Missionary of Mercy and the Chaplain for Bishop Moore Catholic High School and Catholic Charities of Central Florida