Lent is here! Like most of you, I have seen many Lents come and go without any significant changes taking place in my life. Often, I seem to be the same person on Easter Sunday that I was on Ash Wednesday. It seems to me the question I need to ask myself as Lent is about to begin is: “What can I do that will bring about a positive and lasting change in how I live?”
Lent is about having a conversion – a change of heart – seeing and doing things in a better way – becoming a better person – becoming the more that God intends me to be. Obviously, I will not be the only person to benefit from this Lenten transformation. The people of my life and the world in which I live will also benefit from a “newer, nicer version of me.”
Traditionally, we hear that challenge on Ash Wednesday as ashes are placed on our foreheads: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Through the Gospel proclaimed on that day, the church offers the three practices proper to Lent: prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Properly and spiritually understood, they provide opportunities for significant behavioral change.
Prayer is about deepening our relationship with God. This does not necessarily mean praying more. It does mean praying better and more deeply. If we are not praying much, we may need to think about praying more – finding a regular place and time to pray daily. You may want to attend Mass on a weekday in addition to Sunday Mass. On Fridays you may wish to share in the Stations of the Cross. You may want to pick up the Rosary and pray it.
In your private prayer, in addition to asking God to do something for you or others, you should ask God what God wants you to do. This means when we pray, we not only talk to God but we take the time to hear what God has to say. It is more important that we hear what God has to say than God hear what we have to say. He knows what we need – but it is good to verbalize our needs to God – it helps us to understand and rethink our needs.
Fasting is about giving up things. It is good to fast from food, candy, pop, etc. It helps us to grow in discipline . However, and perhaps more importantly, it is a call to fast from wrong and inappropriate behavior. It is a time to begin to stop doing things we shouldn’t be doing. Possible things to fast from – injustice, meanness, harshness, negative statements, cussing, gossip, hurtful actions, belittling, boasting, pornography, drugs, addictive behavior, etc. I think you get the point. We all know there are things that we are doing that we shouldn’t be doing. Lent is a time to change our behavior. Lent is an opportunity to begin letting go of bad habits. This change in behavior can be part of how we live after Lent is over – that is a lasting change.
Almsgiving is about giving and doing good. It is good to give to the needy and vulnerable, to charitable causes and institutions. However, there may be more important ways of giving – giving of our time, of our talent and of our very self. Possible ways of giving – more quality time to our spouses and children, helping out in a local charity, sharing your talent with the parish, visiting someone who is lonely, helping someone who needs help, reaching out to a neighbor, etc., Lent is a time to begin doing some of the things we should be doing and are not doing.
What I am suggesting is that we use Lent to begin practices that will make a difference and will continue after Lent is over. It is nothing less than changing how we live now and becoming the more we can be. It is truly a conversion of heart.
©2014 Eugene S. Ostrowski