How to live Lent, according to the Catechism

Karna Lozoya

If there’s one thing we think we know about Lent, it’s that we’re supposed to “give something up.”

We’re not sure why, but we pick something we like to indulge in, and resolve to “fast” from Netflix or chocolate or cursing or (insert current obsession) for the next 40 days. We think this is living Lent, and that we’re being good Catholics, but mostly we feel like we are missing the point.

Always the sure guide, we turned to the Catechism of the Catholic Church for some help uncovering what Lent is all about, and for some specific suggestions on how to ensure we take advantage of the spiritual opportunities available to us during this liturgical season.

Enter the desert

Lent, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is a time during which “the Church unites herself … to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.”

Jesus was “driven by the spirit into the desert” after his baptism in the Jordan, and he remained there for 40 days in solitude, without eating. The 40 days were really a preparation for what came next—the temptations in the desert.

Jesus did not succumb to the temptations of Satan in the desert, which the Catechism says “anticipates victory at the Passion.”

Before the victory, however, there was the forty days of fasting and prayer, and it’s this mystery we are encouraged to unite ourselves to during the 40 days of Lent.

The Catechism suggests various specific practices for lent: “spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).”

We break these practices down into seven specific things you can do over the next 40 days to unite yourself to Christ in the desert, above and beyond just “giving something up.”

Pray

It should be noted that the first suggestion invites us to above all intensify our prayer life. To unite ourselves to the mystery of the desert means we are to enter the desert with Christ, and that means solitude, silence, and prayer.

This could mean dedicating oneself to prayer for a set time each day, making an effort to read Scripture, or spending an hour each week before the Blessed Sacrament. Look at what you currently do, and increase it a little bit.

Go on a retreat

Lent is the ideal time to get away from the normal routines of life for a few days and attend a spiritual retreat. Half-day retreats or parish missions are common during Lent, and are ideal moments to unite oneself to Christ alone in the desert.

Go to confession

Retreats are a good opportunity to also avail ourselves of “penitential liturgies.” This simply means, go to confession. If you can’t attend a retreat, take a half day or maybe a few hours to go over a thorough examination of conscience. Try to go to confession shortly afterward.

Make a pilgrimage

A pilgrimage is a physical journey to a holy place that reflects our spiritual journey toward heaven. Within the territory of the Archdiocese of Denver there are several holy places one could visit alone, or as a family, or as a parish community, that could serve as a destination for a half-day or day-long pilgrimage. Mother Cabrini Shrine is always a good choice, but also one could visit the Shrine of St. Anne, the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (and the tomb of Servant of God Julia Greeley), or the Parish Shrine of Our Lady Guadalupe.

Fast

It should be noted that fasting comes after suggestions to intensify spiritual and penitential practices, and before suggestions to give alms and do works of mercy. Fasting should be done within the context of prayer, repentance and almsgiving. Fasting without these other elements is simply exercising willpower.

Give alms

Giving to the poor is an essential duty of every Christian, and during Lent we are called to intensify the practice. Give to your parish, to Catholic Charities, to a food bank or to another charity of your choice. We often forget that giving alms can also include giving to a friend, family member or neighbor in dire need.

Give yourself

At the end of the list of penitential practices, the Catechism includes “charitable and missionary works.” These are works of service to the poor, or to your neighbor. The obvious suggestions include volunteering at a shelter run by Catholic Charities or your parish, or other charitable works.

COMING UP: Make prayer a priority this Lent

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If penance is what the season of Lent is all about, then prayer is the vehicle to practice it.

Only by entering into deep, intimate conversation with the Lord can we truly live out the spirit of Lent. Here are a few resources to help you make prayer a priority this Lent.

Consoling the Heart of Jesus: A do-it-yourself retreat by Father Michael Gaitley, $14.95

Written by Father Michael Gaitley, best known for his Marian consecration preparatory retreat 33 Days to Morning Glory, Consoling the Heart of Jesus follows a similar format as a do-it-yourself retreat anybody can engage in daily. The retreat combines the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius with the teachings of Sts. Therese of Lisieux, Faustina Kowlaska, and Louis de Montfort to cover all three bases of a traditional Lenten sacrifice: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Magnificat Lenten Companion 2018, $3.95

Magnificat’s Lenten Companion is an easy to use, daily devotional that can assist you with more intentionally living out your Lenten sacrifices. Included in the companion are daily reflections, essays, prayers, poetry and meditations for the Way of the Cross.

Lenten Reflections from A Father Who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn, $13.99

Based on Scott Hahn’s bestselling book A Father Who Keeps His Promises, this daily reflection book traces salvation history and highlights key figures who from the Biblical narrative who lead us to Christ and his sacrifice for us. Daily readings, verses, prayers and reflections make this book a go-to for anybody looking for a deeper Lent experience.

Lent and Easter Wisdom from Fulton J. Sheen, $11.99

Fulton J. Sheen was not one lacking in profound knowledge and insight into how Christians ought to live, and this wisdom carries over into this short and sweet devotional written by the venerable bishop. It contains 50 passages and accompanying prayers that will help readers enter more deeply into prayer this Lent.

All of these books and more can be purchased from the Catholic Company at catholiccompany.com.

Featured image by Anya Semenoff