Even if you don’t know much about your Catholic faith, you probably know that you’re supposed to ‘give something up for Lent.’
How do you decide what to give up, especially if you’ve been giving up chocolate since you were 10 years old and you think it might be time to move on to something a bit more serious?
Here are some hints:
Go to confession: If you make a prayerful examination of your life, your weaknesses and sins, you may receive clear light that there’s something you should work on. Maybe you struggle with pornography or you need to increase in patience or give up bad language or spend more time with your family than with your computer. If you don’t get clear light when you pray before confession, let the priest know that you want the grace to see what God would like you to work on in Lent. The priest may give you some hints, or you may simply receive clarity from the sacrament. Give it a try.
Listen to the hints of people around you: Many of us know – but don’t really want to acknowledge – that there are things we do (or fail to do) that trouble or worry the people who love us. Maybe your parents worry about how much time you spend with certain friends: could you honor your parents by spending that time with family instead, just to see if your other relationships improve? Perhaps you know that your spouse is uncomfortable with that drink you seem to need every evening to unwind after a hard day. Could you just quietly, without mentioning it, give up that evening drink and find a healthier way to relax? You could take a hint from your doctor, who has been telling you for several months that you need to cut out the caffeine and lower your blood pressure. Taking care of your body – the temple of the Holy Spirit – is a valid spiritual exercise in Lent, provided you are not focused on vanity (like fasting in order to look better in a bikini or giving up junk food so you’ll have a better complexion).
Fast from wasting time: The idea here is to replace empty activities with something that enhances your relationship with God or other people. If you are married, your vocation is to your spouse and family. Can you give up a favorite TV show and read to your kids or have quiet time alone with your spouse or help him or her with household duties? Maybe you commute every day, and as you travel, you listen to music. There’s nothing wrong in that, but it doesn’t necessarily improve you as a Christian or a person. Could you download some faith-forming talks to listen to or pray the Rosary or use your commuting time to explore the Liturgy of the Hours online?
Fast from your phone: This may seem strange – even impossible – but give it a try, especially when you go to Mass. You may say, ‘I’m not one of those people who leaves my phone on so it rings during the consecration.’ But are you one of those people who checks his phone before he enters the church, or sits in the church before Mass begins, checking his messages and texting instead of praying? Or maybe you’re the person who needs to whip out the phone and turn it on right after Mass, to see if you got any messages or missed any calls or notifications. If you are constantly checking your phone, you may be more attuned to the phone than you are to God, and Mass is just something that interrupts or interferes with your connection to your electronics. So leave the phone at home; turn your thoughts toward God; examine your conscience before Mass; stay after Mass to offer a prayer of thanksgiving; and before you leave, make a real connection by smiling, waving or simply greeting someone you’ve seen at Mass before.
On other days, turn off the phone during meals and when you are with friends or family: be truly present to others. Give yourself some time to reconnect with nature and get in touch with yourself by leaving the phone at home and going for a quiet walk in a park. Find out if God has been trying to get through to you while you’ve been focused on your phone or other devices.
Have a Lenten devotion: You can try something different every year, but do something that reminds you that Lent is a special time. An ancient Lenten custom is to pray the Stations of the Cross on Fridays. You can do this at scheduled times in a local church (you can even do it at home, in front of your computer). The prayers and meditations will be in Polish in the church, so go online and find some reflections on the Stations of the Cross so you can read along in your own language while the congregation prays in Polish. Or drop into a church and walk the stations by yourself, with your own private devotional book or meditations you’ve found online. In Wrocław city centre, St Elizabeth’s church in the Rynek is open weekdays from about 6:30AM and closes after the last Mass at 18:00. St Wojciech church in Plac Dominikański opens for the first Mass at 6AM and closes at the end of the last Mass at 19:00. Don’t feel self-conscious about walking around the church praying the stations: nobody will question you or think there’s anything unusual in it.
You can also simply make a point of dropping in to any church that is open near where you live or work, and spend a bit of time in prayer. Try to do it every day, even if only for a few minutes on your way to or from work or studies or while out shopping. Check the Mass schedule and see if you can build in going to Mass during the week: early morning Masses often finish in 25 minutes and are convenient for people on their way to work. Find out if the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in a church near you (in the city centre, St Wojciech has the Blessed Sacrament exposed from early morning until nearly 7PM).
If you’ve never heard of the devotion to Divine Mercy, Lent is the perfect time to learn about it and begin praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. You pray the chaplet using an ordinary rosary; it takes only about 5-10 minutes. There is a special novena to Divine Mercy which begins on Good Friday and culminates with Divine Mercy Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter. God promises tremendous graces of mercy and forgiveness to people who pray the chaplet even once with a sincere spirit of repentance. If you are burdened by unconfessed sins; if you feel unworthy of God’s love; if you are afraid to approach the confessional – the Divine Mercy Chaplet can give you the courage and grace to reconcile to God and be set free from guilt, shame, and remorse.
Let Lent come to you: If you’ve never done a Lenten retreat, this year, try the ‘Pray More’ Lenten retreat. It’s free – you only need to sign up and everything will be sent to you by email. You’ll receive access to about 16 different talks on prayer, the season of Lent, and lessons from the saints. The talks last 10-20 minutes, and you can print out guides to the talks, to help you understand and go deeper.
If that seems like too much for your busy life, you can sign up for very short Lenten reflections sent to your email inbox or as a text message every day. What could be easier?
If you have children aged 5-12, sign them up for the Holy Heroes Lenten Adventure (though to tell the truth, this is fun and refreshing for older kids and for adults who still have a bit of the child in them). Your children will be able to watch videos, learn crafts, and download activity pages (coloring, puzzles, quizzes) that will take them through Lent and into Holy Week and Easter. They will really look forward to getting each day’s adventure and doing the activities. It can take the place of video games or secular TV shows, making their own Lenten sacrifice of those things immediately rewarding. You may find that the whole family is drawn into the Lenten Adventure (and your kids will probably want to sign up for the Advent Adventure, too).
Read a book that builds your faith: The Bible is a good place to start. The Gospel of Matthew has 28 chapters; the Gospel of Mark has only 16 chapters; Luke is 23 chapters. The Gospel of John can be challenging, but it’s just 21 chapters. Even if you start reading a week or so into Lent, you can read an entire Gospel, one chapter a day, before Easter. Or try the Acts of the Apostles at only 28 chapters. You can easily find the Bible online and read it through your phone or computer in any language you prefer. If you think you’ll forget, try linking the reading to something you already do: read after a meal (read aloud to the whole family before leaving the supper table); read while you are on the bus or tram; read early in the morning when you have your first cup of coffee; or read in the evening, before you turn out your light for sleep. If you are going to try dropping into a church when you are out and about in the city, read a chapter while you sit in the presence of God in the tabernacle. You can also challenge a friend to read the same scriptures you are reading this Lent, helping each other keep on track, and perhaps sharing what you learn about God and your own faith as you read.
If none of these things seems like the right thing for you, click over to our article about Lent and follow the links there. Or just search online for ‘Catholic Lenten devotions’ and let the Holy Spirit guide you to something good.