Ancient Wisdom in Modern Times: How to Make a Great Lent

It’s easy for Lent to come and go without producing much fruit. Especially if we don’t make a plan, we can get lost in our day-to-day activities, and it can pass before we realize that we’ve missed an important opportunity to grow closer to Christ. I propose the following few points for our consideration in having a great Lent this year.

Doable, Useful, and Observable Resolutions

For our resolutions to bear fruit, they must be doable. If we pray only one Rosary a day now, it will likely not be practical for us to commit to praying nine each day during Lent. The first rule of the spiritual life is “know yourself.” Setting an impractical standard will likely just end in our giving up and doing nothing. Let’s push ourselves and take steps forward, but they are steps, not airline tickets.

Our resolutions should be useful. Simple penances and mortifications are good; the typical depriving ourselves of good things such as chocolate can be useful. As the old saying goes, virtuti inimica voluptas [pleasure is an enemy to virtue]. Indulging ourselves makes us weak in self-control and sacrifice, and trains us to live for the selfish pleasures of this world; on the other hand, mortification trains in virtue, self-control, and other-worldliness. St. Paul himself wrote, “I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.”(1 Cor 9:27) Still, we should above all choose to fast from things that are sinful or that we know lead us to sin, and add things that are good and that oppose our weaknesses. For example, if we think we are getting too hung up on money, too greedy, or relying too much on mammon rather than on God, then perhaps we should commit to giving to someone in need every week in a manner so generous that it hurts. If we find ourselves being impatient with a certain person, we can commit to doing something kind and thoughtful for them, and to not lose our temper with that person. With the grace of God, such activities can help us stop bad moral habits (vices) and form good ones (virtues).

Our resolutions must be observable. At the end of the day, before getting into bed, we should examine how we have kept our resolutions this day. If our resolutions are vague, such as “I will pray more,” how will we know if we have kept our resolutions or not? But if we say, “I will give $40 to a family in need this week,” “I will play with my younger sibling for 20 minutes each day,” or “I will read the Letters of St. Paul for 10 minutes each day,” then we should easily be able to say how well we have kept our resolutions.

Consider Tech

One area of our lives I propose for consideration is our use of technology. Nearly all of us have new technologies that are heavily influencing our daily lives. These technologies are often developed by people who want our money, our addiction to their products and services, and often to control our knowledge and opinions. This is having devastating consequences in our families and thus in our society. Spouses spend less time communicating and more time staring at their phones (and at others’ spouses). Children spend less time playing outside getting fresh air and exercise, and more time ruining their minds and health on gadgets. People get trained for instant gratification, complete self-will, etc. Yes, there can be good utilization of these technologies, too, and writing and sharing this article I hope is one of them; but in order for these technologies to be used for the good, we must use them and not be used by them. That means stepping back to assess and to consciously take control.

Therefore, I propose for Lent taking something tech-related away and adding something else. For example, delete an app that leads you to sin or to waste time during Lent, and take up a spiritual book instead. Limit the time on your cell phone each day, and make a commitment to play with your children or siblings for a certain amount of time, or to a 20-minute run or workout 3 times per week. Take away something bad or out-of-control so you can control it, and replace it with something which the tech is keeping you from. This is simple, but powerful. I typically assign this to my students for Lent and they have given me rave reviews.

Use the Sacraments

This one is very simple: Let’s have at least one of our Lenten resolutions be to utilize one or both of the bread-and-butter Sacraments more often, i.e., Confession and the Eucharist. We should begin our Lent by making a good Confession. We can then commit to perhaps daily Mass, Mass three times per week, a half hour of Eucharistic adoration per week, weekly or bi-weekly Confession, etc. You get the idea. Jesus said it best:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.

(John 15:4-5)

Without Him, we can do nothing, but we “can do all things in Him Who strengthens [us].”(Phil 4:13) Via Confession and the Eucharist, may we abide in Him, and may He abide and work in and through us.

Aspicientes Jesum [Fixing Our Eyes on Jesus]

Finally, let us take time each day to think on Jesus. We can choose to spend our first 5 minutes in the morning with Him, contemplating and praying to Him. He is our Creator and our End, “the Alpha and the Omega.”(Rev 1:8) He is the reason we exist and the reason why we have the chance to “repent and believe in the Good News”(Mk 1:15) this Lent, to face our weaknesses and take His hand to help us change our ways. He is Love Himself,[Cf. 1 Jn 4:8] and we have offended that Love. Let’s make a good Lent, so we can better return love for Love. To do so, we can can try committing ourselves to make at least one 30 minute or hour-long meditation each Friday especially concentrating on His Passion, we could pray the Stations of the Cross, or even watch the film, The Passion of the Christ. As St. Paul wrote, we must fix our eyes on Jesus, Who has loved us and handed Himself over for us, so that we might not faint on the rough road to Him:

Therefore we also having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us: Looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God. For think diligently upon him that endured such opposition from sinners against himself; that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds. For you have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin: And you have forgotten the consolation, which speaketh to you, as unto children, saying: My son, neglect not the discipline of the Lord; neither be thou wearied…

(Hebrews 12:1-5)

To better contemplate Christ’s Love and His suffering for love of us, many have found this Meditation on the Passion of Christ to be helpful: https://corfidelis.com/2020/04/09/hematidrosis-how-modern-science-can-help-us-meditate-on-the-passion-of-christ/ .

I hope this serves you well. Please share it with others if you find it useful. May God bless you and may your Lent bear much Fruit through His Resurrection. Oremus pro invicem.