The girl scouts are in front of the grocery store with those yummy cookies so Lent must be here. Have you ever noticed that girl scout cookie time and Lent seem to coincide each year? Maybe providing us with those thin mints right before many of us abstain from chocolate for 40 days is part of their marketing ploy!
Did Lent sneak up on you too? Seems like 2016 is flying by quickly and Lent being so early makes the year feel like it’s going even faster.
February 10th, Ash Wednesday, comes from the ancient Jewish tradition of penance and fasting. It marks the beginning of the Season of Lent, a time of penance, reflection, and fasting in preparation for the great joy of the Easter Resurrection.
Traditionally as Catholics, we receive ashes in the sign of the cross on our foreheads as a visible symbol of our penitence. The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year and they symbolize the dust from which God made us.
As the ashes are applied to your forehead, you will hear the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Both of these expressions provide food for thought about our Lenten practices. Nothing here on earth (including us) is permanent and we must repent and believe in the Gospel in order to live full and vibrant lives here on earth.
During Lent, we are reminded to live our baptismal vows as others prepare to be baptized into the Catholic faith. We are called not just to abstain from sin during Lent, but to true conversion of our hearts and minds as followers of Christ.
Traditionally, people give up things for Lent, such as fasting from those chocolate thin mints, but a more challenging sacrifice may be to do something that’s out of your comfort zone. Here are some ideas for you to consider when you are thinking about what to do for Lent this year:
Go through the Holy Door. In celebration of the Holy Year of Mercy, every diocese around the world is supposed to open a Holy Door. These doors can be in the local cathedral or other churches of particular relevance, such as a Marian shrine. Look on your diocesan website to find the Holy Door in your diocese and make an effort to visit that site during Lent.
Don’t use credit. Give up those credit cards for 40 days. Use a debit card or cash instead of a credit card to stop piling up debt. This is also a way to be more prayerful and thankful for what you do have.
Be consciously grateful. Try keeping a gratitude journal each day of Lent and write down the things God gave you that day without you having to ask. Even hardships can be cause for thanks when you meditate on them.
Fast from spending one day each week during Lent. If you spend any time outside the four walls of your home, it’s almost impossible to go an entire day without spending money. There are bills to pay, gas to buy, lunches, groceries, incidentals, etc. that seem to gobble money at an alarming pace. Try to abstain from spending one entire day each week and see what happens.
Increase your attendance at Church. You may be a faithful attendee at Sunday Mass, but what about other times? Try going to Stations of the Cross each week, or attending daily Mass on a regular schedule during Lent or stopping by the parish for Eucharistic Adoration. The blessings from those increased spiritual exercises will spill over in to everything else in your life.
Increase your giving. What would happen if you were outrageously generous during Lent? Try doubling your weekly contributions to Church or making a large donation to a ministry that is on your heart. What would happen if you gave money to each homeless person you met during Lent? Or find someone at the grocery store and anonymously pay for their groceries if they appear to need help.
Volunteer. There are so many worthy charities that need volunteers to keep their mission alive. Try volunteering somewhere out of your comfort zone. You may just discover a new passion for service.
Set up a prayer corner. How many times have you told someone you would pray for them only to forget about it until the next time you saw them? Try setting up a prayer corner in your home where you write down the prayer intentions on your heart and keep track of when and how you prayed for that person. Then send them a card or note giving them specifics about your prayers for their intentions.
This Lenten season, instead of running away from those cute little kids in the green uniforms tempting you with cookies, try doing something out of your comfort zone. The life changes you make during Lent can last a lifetime.