Us before Lent. Image: brookhavenhospital.com
We’re 10 days out from LENT… the ultimate chocolate-avoiding, facebook-deleting, extra-mass-attending gauntlet of Catholic spirituality. These final 10 days of ordinary time are invaluable when it comes to getting the most fruit out of our Lenten journey. Admittedly, a lot of us use this lingering Ordinary time to binge on bingeing before the big fast begins. If we’re honest we often approach Lent like a diet… I’ll start on Monday–or in this case, Wednesday. I’ll eat this entire chocolate cake before I give up chocolate. I’m giving up bread and sugar soon… therefore I will eat aaaaaall the pizzzzza! We all know this is no way to treat our bodies, so why do we also treat our souls this way?
We abuse our final days of Ordinary time in one of two ways: Hurry up and indulge/binge/consume as much as possible before I have to give it up OR I will not start my new positive habit until Ash Wednesday. Both of these approaches are problematic. While nothing is wrong with feasting… after all Jesus even preaches about how we must feast when the Bridegroom is around, it is the idea of over-indulgence “while there is still time” that is a misunderstanding of what it is to feast. We’ll take a look at how Louisiana in particular celebrates pre-Lent next week.
Quick Review: What’s the point of Lent?
We will explore Lent together beginning in March, but for now here’s a quick definition for Lent by the German Shepherd Emeritus, Pope Benedict XVI:
“It is a period of spiritual ‘combat’ which we must experience alongside Jesus… using the arms of faith: prayer, listening to the word of God and penance. In this way we will be able to celebrate Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our Baptism.”
There are a lot of keywords in this quote, like “Spiritual Combat.” If we’re going to combat, we need some training! Some practice! We don’t start training for a marathon by running 26.2 miles on the first day (or do you? I have no idea hahahaha). Of course you don’t! That’s why this ordinary time is so important. We need to prepare for combat. That combat is with ourselves, our temptations, our vices.
But the combat is not alone… it is “Alongside Jesus.” That means Lent can’t simply be doing the Whole30 with two of my best friends… it’s taking on whatever penance we discern with Christ by our side. Further, I feel the Lord would remind us… it’s not the Whole30, it’s the Whole40 and you don’t get to turn the stones into bread when you’re hungry. And don’t forget “Easter” is the real reason for the Lenten Season! So how do we add that EXTRA?
Three “Es” for making Ordinary Time EXTRAordinary!
Take time over the next 10 days to really discern what penance, added spiritual devotions, and opportunities to be generous will bring about the most fruit in your life this Lent. Ask yourself the tough questions: Who do I want to be by Easter? What does Jesus want my Lenten journey to be? What fruit can I bear? If we don’t know the WHY before hand, our HOW may be way off target.
(2) Extra 10%:
How can we add just 10% more effort when it comes to Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving in the final days before Lent? Often we are well intentioned…. “This Lent I will pray my breviary, pray a rosary, Divine Mercy chaplet, go to daily mass, and do a holy hour every.single.day during Lent.” While that extra 3 hours of prayer per day sounds amazing, it is highly unlikely that we can make such a dramatic shift from what our current prayer life is like. Here are some suggestions:
PRAYER: If we hope to add prayer, mass, or devotions to our daily Lenten schedule, we may want to start with adding just 5 minutes a day of prayer now while we’re still in ordinary time… or an extra daily mass or two before Ash Wednesday. If we are not in the habit of saying a daily rosary now… what makes us think that we will suddenly be capable and desirous of a daily rosary in Lent? We must start small now so as to be ready to tackle our Lenten plans. By adding that extra 10% during these last 10 days, we have a shot at truly growing spiritually when we get to Lent.
FASTING: Start small… plan on keeping your house clean? Start with just making your bed in the 10 days before Lent. Want to limit your consumption of media, screen time, TV? Start with limiting yourself to just an hour a day during the final days of Ordinary time. Plan on giving up soda? Start with cutting back to just one a day.
ALMSGIVING: Hoping to add more generosity to your life in Lent? Detach from material goods? Give up shopping? Start with other acts of generosity… like being generous with your time with your friends, or giving out compliments, or practicing the virtue of patience. Practice makes perfect, right? Or at least makes possible.
While Lent is a time for us to go deeper in our relationship with Jesus, it is not intended to be a totally solo journey. Few dates on the calendar offer an excellent evangelization opportunity like Ash Wednesday Mass! Think of the people in your life… maybe they aren’t interested in daily mass, or joining your Bible study, or even regularly attending Sunday Mass, but there is something attractive about Ash Wednesday. Maybe it is our ability to identify with our own nothingness or shame or the fact that we get free stuff at that mass, or that we’re visibly marked… regardless, we should be all the more excited by the opportunity to bring a friend who would not normally attend. Here they can learn of the special Lenten practices at your particular parish… giving you the opportunity to follow up with another invitation to yet another encounter!
An important note in closing… whether we’re pre-Lenten bingers or procrastinators, we have to remember that at the end of the day, Lent is about deepening a Relationship with a Person. Why wait until March 1st? If I love someone I wouldn’t tell them “I love you, and I want to get to know you better, but let’s wait 10 days to start spending that time together.” Start today. Whatever it is you’re hoping to do during Lent, start now. It’s an extraordinary journey. Don’t wait for Lent.
Dear Jesus, What do I need to remove from my life this Lent? [Asking for a friend ;-)] What do I need to add? How would you like us to spend more time together this Lent? Where is that extra 10%? Who in my life needs to meet you again or perhaps for the first time this Lent? How can I be that instrument? Cheers! Amen.
This post was originally published on TheCatholicOutpost.com on February 19, 2017.