Lent is a time to take a good, long look in the mirror and come to terms with what’s working about our lives and what’s not. It’s time for a change of heart.
We’re in good company. For hundreds of years, our faith community has been using the 40 days before Easter to take that long look in the mirror together. In fact, we’ve gotten pretty good at it. Our Lenten practices are a proven method to renovate our interior lives.
Most of us know three things about what happens in Lent: it begins with Ash Wednesday, we fast from meat on Fridays, and we think about giving something up. Those are solid fundamentals, but it goes a little deeper.
Three disciplines, in particular, have proven to be effective in helping us renew our relationships: Fasting sharpens our will and helps us evaluate things we might be attached to in an unhealthy way; almsgiving, or service and charity, opens our eyes to those in need; and prayer deepens our relationship with God.
We’ve put together this bundle to help guide your Lenten journey this year, especially if you are taking your first steps or coming back to Lent after a time away. We’ll walk through these six weeks to Easter together. It’s a long haul, so call on these insights and resources to help you sustain your effort for 40 days, and join us on social by posting with #GrottoLent2020.
We all need conversion — we all need to come to terms with the ways that our brokenness and selfishness and small-mindedness diminish our relationships. Lent is a time to reach for something more — together — and to discover that God is reaching back.
Lent lasts 40 days — that’s a long haul. It’s enough time to make sure we’re serious about what we’re doing. By week three, it can be a grind. It takes diligence because the work of conversion is largely done in small and hidden ways.
So, decorate your digital space with reminders to stay strong and persevere. Or call on our music playlist for encouragement. If you’re getting tired of mac-and-cheese for your meatless Fridays, we have you covered.
Finally — because Lent takes daily effort, sometimes we just need a little nudge to keep us going. Our quote-a-day journal has encouraging words and space to reflect on where you are in the process. Use it as a companion as you walk through these 40 days and you’ll be able to look back at Easter and recognize that you are emerging on the other side a different person.
Our culture is coming to realize that even without a spiritual motivation, there are real benefits to fasting. It resets our bodies and expectations and desires and it makes us more resilient and disciplined. When you combine those benefits with an intention to grow in goodness, you have a powerful tool.
Don’t dive into fasting without some care and thought, though. Lent lasts 40 days, and it takes intentionality and planning to make sure you are not only giving up the right thing, but doing it in a way that is sustainable and leads you to think of others more than yourself — now that’s a path toward transformation.
Giving up candy is the old tried-and-true method — as kids, many of us took this option. And if you’re thinking about joining others in giving up meat, there are lots of meals you can make for dinner instead. But now that we’re adults, maybe it’s time for thinking creatively — like giving up time or freedom. You might even think about picking something that will stretch your personality.
“Almsgiving” is an old-fashioned word — so what does it actually mean?
Giving alms means giving money or food to people in need — it means doing something to make a tangible difference in their lives. That’s what love does — it’s a gift of self. Connecting our lives with theirs changes the way we think and feel — it pulls us out of ourselves and makes us less selfish. And the assistance we offer others communicates our care for them just as much as it improves their circumstances. Both can be sustaining.
Catholic Relief Services is an international humanitarian aid organization that serves the poorest of the poor. Every Lent, Catholics use small cardboard boxes — “rice bowls” — in their homes to collect money that supports people who lack what they need to fully flourish. Using the CRS Rice Bowl program is a way to close the gap between us and our brothers and sisters living on the margins.
If giving something material is out of your range right now, you can always give your time. Offering your energy to help serve a meal to those who are hungry can be an effective expression of compassion just as much as giving a few bucks.
Prayer is a confusing thing. Often we feel like we’re in a one-way conversation, and unsure if there’s anyone else on the other end of the line. Especially if your mind is used to processing something, it’s not easy to step into a quiet, reflective mode and feel like anything is happening.
Prayer, though, is nothing less than raising your heart and mind to God. That means it can happen in a lot of ways — it doesn’t only happen in a church or on your knees. It doesn’t even need to require words. Even a 10-minute walk, if it’s done with mindfulness, can raise your heart to God and open your heart.
One Grotto writer decided to spend eight minutes every day in silence as her Lenten prayer practice. She wrestled with quieting her mind at first, and then with the expectation that she’d hear something from God. In the end, she learned that communicating with God can be as simple as resting in His presence.
And if you’re ready to put some regular structure to this experience — if you’re ready for a guide — consider Hallow, a new app geared specifically for beginners that walks users through prayer experiences. You can select your preferences in methods, lengths, music, guides, and themes.
Because Lent is a time of conversion, don’t miss out on one of the greatest gifts the Church offers us as we confront our brokenness: the sacrament of confession. Even on a purely human level, there’s something magical about putting words to shame. It’s like shining light in the darkness — it allows you to see clearly and move forward.
While the subject of confession is our failings, the experience is one of love and mercy, not punishment or fear. It’s a simple opportunity for honesty. You don’t have to worry about what to say or do — if you walk into the confessional, the priest will guide you through the process. It’s not complicated — better to think of it as a conversation.
It can be intimidating for even those of us practiced at it, though. It’s not easy to confront the dark parts of our lives. So if you’ve never been to confession, or if it’s been years since you’ve experienced it, just know that we are all nervous when we walk through that confessional door. And that’s the whole point — you’re never alone.
Conversion means turning away from something, but it also means turning toward something. The destination of our Lenten journey is Holy Week and Easter, when our community comes together to celebrate the most important moment in history — the moment when God conquered death in the resurrection.
The new life Jesus received then shines in our lives even now. When we die to ourselves in small ways by fasting, prayer, and giving alms, we experience a bit of the resurrection. Lent is about making ourselves ready to recognize and embrace this light by deepening our relationships with God, others, even ourselves. Join us on this journey! #GrottoLent2020