February 4, 2024 Essay: Lent: A Grace-Filled Season
Lent will soon be here. It is intended to be a season of grace in which we are given a privileged opportunity to renew our faith and allow our faith to inform our daily living.
There are three areas to which we ought to give attention in the Lenten season, and our desire is to identify a practice or action that we can take that is reasonable for us to sustain throughout our forty-day journey. Keep it simple, and you’ll be successful.
Prayer. What is the state of your prayer currently? How often do you pray? How much time do you spend in prayer? What is the character of your prayer—petitionary, devotional practices (rosary, novenas, etc.), meditative, Lectio Divina? If you currently do not have a regular practice of prayer, start small. Identify the time of day that is best for you to pray—early in the morning before others wake up, later in the evening when the children are in their rooms preparing for bed, lunchtime when you carve out 20 minutes for yourself. In the time period that is best for you, stop, put your phone on silent mode, and set aside 10-15 minutes for prayer. Start by simply breathing in and out for 2-3 minutes. Allow yourself to enter the moment. When you feel a bit recollected, then offer a brief prayer of thanksgiving to God. What are you most thankful for that day? After expressing thanks to God, tell God the one thing that weighs most heavily on your mind in that moment. Just name it! Entrust that concern to God and ask God to help you handle it with God’s wisdom and strength. End your prayer with an expression of confidence in God’s presence with you and gratitude for God’s never-failing love for you. If you think doing this daily is too ambitious a goal, start with a goal of 3 days a week and see if, over the Lenten time, you are able to do more. If you have an established pattern of prayer, then take inventory of what you feel is currently lacking in your prayer. If nothing is lacking, then this part of your Lenten program is complete! If something is lacking, identify what you will do to address it in a way that is not overly burdensome for you but, instead, is doable.
Almsgiving. What can you do this Lent to direct your focus to others in need? Can you call or visit someone you know is homebound and do so at least once a week? Can you give up two treats to yourself each week (your double mocha frappuccino or your bagel with a schmear) and donate that money to an organization that will leverage your gift so that it has a greater impact? Consider City Relief or New York Common Pantry. Can you identify one homeless person near your home, or your place of work, whom you will know by name, and to whom you will provide a set level of assistance each week? Keep it simple and doable!
Fasting. From what do you need to fast? It may not be food or alcohol. It may be from gossip, from anger, from grudges, from wounding words, from impatience, from prejudice. Take time now to identify what it is in you that most depletes your positive energy or is most hurtful of others. What will you do this Lent to abstain from this? Will you be attentive to when this tendency is asserting itself and immediately seek to direct your energy elsewhere?
All that we do in Lent is done to open ourselves to the abundant grace that God wishes to shower upon us. What we take up this Lent, or lay down this Lent, is nothing compared to what we receive in return from God. Happy Lent!
— Fr. Mark Hallinan, S.J., Associate Pastor