This first Sunday of Lent is a time to reinvigorate ourselves as Catholics. It enables us to step back from the usual habits and distractions and give particular attention to God. It leads us to the Easter Sunday celebration of our risen Christ. It is a time for prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self) and almsgiving (justice towards neighbours).
Common practice for me when I was a child was giving up sweets, candy, trying to attend daily Mass, putting a dime every day in a Lenten folder, etc. Then years later, when I was teaching in a Catholic inner-city school, the children (who weren’t used to getting candy anyway) practised their faith in Lent by “acts”: helping to look after younger siblings and trying not to fight with them, inviting others to play at recess, helping out doing chores etc. Now, as a senior, I look for ways to “do” not just to “give up”. I’d like to share some rather good Lenten activities that I read about, that provoke more actual growth as a Catholic.
- Don’t buy anything that you don’t need.
- Throw away/ give away 40 things for 40 days.
- No gossiping.
- Work out daily to take care of the body God gave you.
- Say 3 nice things to your spouse and children daily.
- Appreciate more what I have.
- Make a list of people who have touched my life in one way or another. Each day of Lent, write a person on the list a letter of thanks for how they touched my life and pray for that person on that day.
- Give up complaining.
- Perform an act of kindness for 40 days.
- Try to improve my spirit of giving.
- Give up the radio in the car in order to focus more on the things that are around me that God created.
- Spend more time with family/friends. We cherish time. We spend to save time. We rush to save time. Yet none of us have the time we long for. So, try using our time with others.
Ideas for children/young people:
- Avoid asking for toys when going to the store with mom/dad.
- Do a child-friendly chore that you don’t like to do.
- Be positive and do not complain (I am bored! I don’t like this or that! I don’t have any toys! etc.)
- Teach a younger sibling something new and cool.
- Offer to teach a skill to a peer.
- Make a package of school supplies and bring them to your teacher to give to a needy student.
- Write a prayer for all the kids sick and hungry in the world. Read it at night.
Pope Francis has suggested:
- FAST from hurting words and say kind words.
- FAST from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
- FAST from anger and be filled with patience.
- FAST from pessimism and be filled with hope.
- FAST from worries and trust in God.
- FAST from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
- FAST from pressures and be prayerful.
- FAST from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
- FAST from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
- FAST from grudges and be reconciled.
- FAST from words and be silent so you can listen.
If we try to practise many of these suggestions, we will grow in our relationship with God. It won’t be just the usual “giving up sweets” practice but true, thoughtful practices that show that we are true followers of Christ.