Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 days of preparation for the Easter season when Christians are called to deepen their spiritual lives through the practices of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.
The belief is that our consistent participation in these practices — such as exercise we do for our physical health — improves our spiritual well-being by stripping away all that is unnecessary and becoming more mindful of how God is working in our lives. Challenge yourself this year and go beyond the usual practice of “giving up” something. Now is a great time to take stock of your spiritual life and to grow in it. Not sure where to start? Check out these 25 ideas:
1. Make a commitment to read the Sunday scriptures before Sunday Mass. You can find them in the Liturgy in Focus carousel on our parish website. In the same way that reading up on football players, opposing teams, and coaching strategies will help you experience a game more fully, familiarizing yourself with the readings ahead of time will help you experience them in a deeper way on Sunday.
2. Check the Busted Halo’s Lent Calendar, filled with Lenten-themed Daily Jolts and MicroChallenges to find new ways to practice the disciplines of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Each day of Lent, it offers an inspirational quote paired with a practical, challenging task that you can do that day to help keep your spiritual life on point. You can find it at bustedhalo.com
3. Try a new spiritual practice. Experience Mass at a different time than you usually attend. Pray in a different area.
4. Think about what you usually spend your money on. Do you buy too many clothes? Spend too much on dinner out? Pick one type of expenditure that you will “fast” from during Lent, and then give the money you would usually spend to a local charity.
5. Take something on — 40 days of letter writing, 40 acts of kindness, 40 phone calls to the important people in your life.
6. When you first sit down in front of your computer at work, or at the very end of your workday, try a 10-minute guided prayer from Sacred Space based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. It is at www.scaredspace.ie
7. Go to weekday Mass one day during the week. Morning Mass at Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament is at 8:30 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
8. If you don’t have a crucifix in your apartment or house, buy a simple one and put it in your bedroom.
9. Look for visual images of Lent to use as a daily meditation.
10. Instead of turning on a streaming service for your next binge-watching session, read the entire Gospel of Mark in one sitting. As the shortest Gospel, it is the most concise story of Jesus’ life, and the cross, a central Lenten symbol, plays an even more prominent role than in the other Gospels.
11. Meditate with the Stations of the Cross.
12. Create your own Friday fish fry.
13. Unplug from your cellphone or turn off your car radio on your commute. The silence may be jarring at first, but you may find that you are able to concentrate better and will be more observant of your surroundings.
14. Buy a book of daily reflections and keep it by your bed. There are some good ones available online.
15. Think about a habit that has kept you from being whom God is calling you to be. Consciously give up that habit for Lent.
16. Spend at least one weekend or evening volunteering during Lent. If you feel comfortable volunteering in person, help package meals at your local soup kitchen or stock shelves at a food pantry. If you would rather volunteer from home, maybe you can send cards to those in nursing homes or shut-ins.
17. Make a commitment to fast from insensitive, cruel comments about others. So, no gossiping or going down the Twitter rabbit hole.
18. Participate in reading a spiritual book. Or an online site that has spiritual readings.
19. As a part of your Lenten almsgiving, make a point to learn more about a particular social issue (immigration, human trafficking, racism, the environment, public education, child poverty). Give money to an organization related to your chosen issue that supports the dignity of the human person.
20. Tap into your creative side and try using coloring as a way to pray and meditate during Lent. Buy a coloring book or download a Lent calendar coloring page
21. Use the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl to reflect on the realities of people in need around the world and devote prayers, fasting, and almsgiving to changing the lives of the poor. The money raised by CRS Rice Bowl supports not only the prevention of hunger and poverty in countries like Kenya, Vietnam, and Honduras, but also in the United States. (Twenty-five percent of all donations stay in the local diocese where they are collected.)
22. Pray for somebody. As you’re walking the streets, driving the highways, or waiting for a meeting to start, pick out a person who appears to be in need and pray for that person. Be mindful of the words of philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
23. Get to know your neighbors. Introduce yourself, plan a dinner, or bring food to an older person on your block.
24. Read the Works of Mercy as Jesus describes them in Matthew 25:31-46. Then put this teaching into practice and choose an act of service you can perform throughout Lent.
25. Celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Can’t remember how? Tell the priest it’s been a while,and ask him to guide you through it.