This Lent, choose to be intentional about what you do

Lent is here…again. Though it seems like Lent 2020 was just yesterday (or never really went away at all), here we are, 40 days before Easter and once more being presented with an important opportunity to grow deeper in communion with the Lord.

Lent is perhaps even more poignant this year than it was last, simply because of the challenges that we’ve all endured in the time that’s passed. In a very tangible way, the hardships of the past year are echoed in Christ’s suffering on the Cross, which Lent is meant to remind us of in the lead up to Easter. More importantly, however, Lent helps us to recognize our need for God and invites us to depend on him in new and more meaningful ways within each of our lives.

During Lent of last year, As Pope Francis stood in a hauntingly empty St. Peter’s Square last March 27 and implored the Lord for an end to the Coronavirus pandemic during his Urbi et Orbi address, he spoke these words which remain ever truer today as this Lent begins: “Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: ‘Be converted!’ ‘Return to me with all your heart’ (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.”

Approaching Lent as a “time of choosing” gives us the chance to be intentional about what we do and how we spend Lent. Here are a few suggestions to help you do just that.

The Search

The Searchproduced by the Augustine Institute and hosted by Chris Stefanick, is an innovative video series that tackles the key questions of every human heart. In seven beautifully filmed episodes, Chris Stefanick and experts from multiple fields of science, medicine, psychology, art, and religion examine our place in the larger story of existence. The series is being offered for free to all the faithful of the Archdiocese of Denver during Lent (sign up here).

Throughout Lent, Chris Stefanick will be guiding participants on how to use The Search in their small group during his weekly show The Life You Were Made For. You can sign up to be a part of the audience at RealLifeCatholic.com/LIVE.  Each week, he will be joined by a bishop discussing an episode of The Search and sharing their conversion story. Our own Archbishop Aquila will be with Chris on the very first episode, February 18 at 6 p.m. Click here to tune-in.

Consecration to St. Joseph

Given that Pope Francis designated this year the Year of St. Joseph, now is the perfect time to do Father Donald Calloway’s excellent Consecration to St. Joseph. The world is in great need of St. Joseph’s spiritual fatherhood, and seeking his intercession can be a powerful tool for Catholics in today’s confusing times. While a consecration to St. Joseph can be done any time, Father Calloway recommends doing it 33 days before various St. Joseph-related feast days throughout the year. The first one leading up to The Feast of St. Joseph on March 19 began two days ago on Feb. 15. It’s not too late to catch up! Consider consecrating yourself to St. Joseph this Lent as a means to grow in Godly virtue; you won’t regret it. One final note: just as a consecration to the Virgin Mary isn’t just for women, a consecration to St. Joseph isn’t just for men!

Hallow

Does your smartphone use prevent you from praying? Hallow might be the app for you. This sleek, intuitively-designed Catholic prayer app will help you get your prayer life in order. Not only does it offer the “basics” of guided Catholic prayer, such as the Examen and the Rosary, it also offers guided prayer meditations as well as a selection of homilies and Bible stories from renowned Catholic speakers such as Father Mike Schmitz and Jason Evert. The app hasn’t even been live for a year and it already has an impressive library of prayers, so it’s safe to say that Hallow could become the go-to prayer app for Catholics. Why not make it a part of your daily routine during Lent? Whether it’s a full Rosary or a minute meditation, there’s no time that’s wasted when spent in prayer.

Digital Detox

On the other side of the coin, if you are looking to cut back on screen time and consumption of digital media, consider undergoing a digital detox this Lent. The folks behind the Saintmaker Catholic Life Planner is offering a free digital detox with the aim of hopefully breaking some of the bad digital habits we’ve all picked up along the way and redirecting time spent in the digital world to be used instead for the Lord and loved ones. Broken up into seven weeks, the ultimate challenge, should you choose to accept it, would be to extend the digital detox beyond just Lent and do it for an entire year. It likely won’t be easy, but if you’ve been feeling called to cut back on technology a bit, perhaps this is a good starting point. To learn more and accept the challenge, visit thesaintmaker.com/digital-detox. Also, while you’re there, be sure to check out their life planners – these could also prove to be a useful tool in being more intentional with your time this Lent.

Lenten Devotionals

Of course, picking up a Lenten devotional is also a classic yet effective way to live a more intentional Lent. There are countless devotionals out there, and perhaps you already have a favorite. However, if you’re looking for a new one, or are just in need of a suggestion, here are two that have become more popular in recent years.

The Blessed Is She Set a Fire Lent Devotional is an elegant devotional for women that’s meant to allow openness to the Holy Spirit. It’s suited for both individual and group use and goes through each week of Lent using a series of essays, scripture and prayers. The physical edition is sold out, but the digital version is available to purchase for $15.

Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble of the Daughters of St. Paul wrote a Lenten devotional a couple of years ago that may seem counter intuitive but is actually a rather unique and powerful way to go through Lent. Titled Remember Your Death: Memento Mori, this Lenten devotional invites us to reflect on death. As the description of the devotional says, “Reflecting on death is not a morbid affair, it is a healthy and often healing practice that helps us accept the inevitable with hope. The eternal life promised in Jesus Christ is our ultimate, hoped-for end. Embracing the reality of death helps us live a better life now. In the light and strength of Christ, it helps us.” You can sign up for free to receive an email each day of Lent, but for the full effect, be sure to pick up a copy of the devotional here.


Photo by Grant Whitty on Unsplash

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”