Lent: An Important Season of the Church Year
Every year, the Church calendar includes the period of Lent prior to the Easter season. During the days of prayer and penance, we should use the time to prepare ourselves to receive the great graces available to us through the passion, death, and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus.
The practice of penance before Easter goes back to the very early days of the Church. By the early fourth century, there was already an established tradition of a prepartion period of forty days prior to Easter. The number forty is thought to have been selected because it was the number of days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness before being tempted by the devil.
Today, in the Latin Rite, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday which can fall anywhere from February 4th to March 11th depending on when Easter falls on the calendar. The forty days are then counted over the next six weeks with Sundays not included in enumeration of the forty days.
The three pillars of Lent include prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The Church urges us to prayerfully discern how the Lord would have us change our lives to grow in these three areas over the days of Lent. The goal is to grow in closer union to the Lord and His Church by going deeper in all three of these areas.
Here are several ideas for Lent to help you have a fruitful preparation for Easter.
Start by Getting Help
First, put yourself under the patronage of a saint who will help you out for Lent. I will mention a few suggested saints, but you can certainly go to your favorite saint. The important idea is to have Heavenly support for your Lenten journey.
Pray to Your Lenten Patron Saint
Just like you might get help from someone here on earth to help hold you accountable to reach a goal, you can ask for a saint (or saints) to help you grow in holiness through your Lenten practices. Here are some suggested saints:
Your guardian angel
St. Faustina Kowalska
St. Anthony of the Desert
St. Clare of Assisi
St. Francis of Assisi
St. Teresa of Avila
St. John Paul II
St. Teresa of Calcutta
St. Louis IX
St. Zelie Martin
St. John the Baptist
St. Mary Magdalene
Once you have selected a saint, make a point of asking for the saint's help at least once a day. Start you day off with a simple prayer asking for the saint's help. For example,
St. Anthony of the Desert, pray for me to perservere in my Lenten practices. Amen.
Adopt Someone to Pray for During Lent
During the forty days of Lent, select someone to pray for and for whom to offer up sacrifices. It can be someone you know or someone you simply know about. Here are some ideas:
A pregnant mother who is in a crisis pregnancy
A family who is in a troubled spot of the world
Missionaries who are sharing the Good News in word and deed
A religious or a religious order
A family in your parish
Someone with a serious illness
A parishioner who is homebound
You might not know specific things to pray for the person you choose, but the Lord knows. And, you can pray for more "general" things such as an increase in the virtues of faith, hope, and love, growth in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, strength to carry the cross, to maintain joy in difficult circumstances, to grow closer to Jesus during Lent, and final perserverence.
You can also just join them to your own prayers. If you are praying for some spiritual area in your life such as growing in wisdom, ask the Lord to help you adopted person to also grow in wisdom. And, try to pray of the person or persons each day during Lent.
Less Junk Food, More Healthy Food
One way to help us grow in our prayer life is to increase the spiritual food we receive. We cannot grow in the spiritual life on a steady diet of spiritual junk food.
Of course, the most important food for our souls is the Eucharist. At Holy Communion, we receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. And, if we can, during Lent, it would be excellent to attend Mass more often than we do now. If you are already going on Sundays, see if you can go at least one more day a week. It is not necessarily easy, but it might be possible with some adjustments to your family's schedule.
One tried and true Lenten practice is to increase our spiritual reading and devotional practices. By doing so, we are feeding ourselves with holy food that will help us in the moment, later in the day, and down the road in life.
There are numerous things you can do, but one is to read more Scripture during Lent. Make it a daily practice so that you will keep at it every day.
Here are a three free resources to help you read more from the Bible during Lent.
Take a Five-Day Email Course on the Bible (Free Resource)
The Bible is a Catholic Book because the Bible came from the Catholic Church. And, as the Church teaches us, we need to spend personal time reading and reflecting on Scripture. St. Jerome's famous quote is, "Ignorance of Scripture, is ignorance of Christ." We want to get to know Jesus better, and reading His Word is a great way to do.
This mini course which is delivered by email over the course of five days will teach you five important concepts of the Bible that every Catholic should know.
If you want to be more motivated to read Scripture, take this course and learn about these five important ideas about Scripture which the Catholic Church teaches and you should know.
Read through a Gospel during Lent (Free Resource)
This free guide tells you what verses to read every day in order to complete one of the Gospels in forty days. The guide contains a reading plan for each of the four Gospels.
Each day's reading ends at a natural pause in the Gospel to allow you to reflect on a complete story. Take one idea and make that your meditation for the day.
A Gospel Reading for Every Day of Lent (Free Resource)
If you prefer to read from different Gospels during Lent, this resource has you covered. It is a selection of Gospel readings from all four Gospels that present passages that are good for reflection throughout Lent.
The free daily Gospel Lenten reading plan has readings for all the days of Lent (including Sundays), Holy Week, and the first Sunday of Easter. (Click on the image to get your copy.)
Spiritual Reading from the Saints
There are many classics from the saints that can make for great spiritual reading during Lent. Here are some which I would recommend. (The link is to a free version of the book that can be downloaded or read online. Of course, these can all be purchased online.)
Confessions - St. Augustine
Diary - St. Faustina Kowalska
Introduction to the Devout Life - St. Francis de Sales
On Loving God - St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Story of a Soul - St. Therese of Lisieux
The Dialogue - St. Catherine of Siena
The Imitation of Christ - Thomas a Kempis (he is not a canonized saint, but many saints have recommended his book)
True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary - St. Louis De Montfort
Uniformity with God's Will - St. Alphonsus Liguori
Way of Perfection - St. Teresa of Avila
Make the Stations of the Cross (Free Resource)
One devotional practice that is associated with Lent is making the Stations of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross are fourteen moments in Jesus' Passion that go from His being condemned to die to being buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimithea. Through meditating on these stations, we can unite ourselves more closely with Our Suffering Savior Who gave everything for us.
If you are able to go to a communal Stations of the Cross at your parish during Lent, go. It can be a great opportunity to be united as a parish and to remember what it cost to free us from sin. It also reminds us of just how very much Jesus loves us.
Of course, you can also make the Stations of the Cross on your own at your parish or in your own home. To help with that, you can download a free copy of the meditations for the fourteen stations which were written by St. Alphonsus Ligouri who is a Doctor of the Church.
The Stations include a picture and meditation for each of the fourteen stations along with verses from the Stabat Mater Dolorosa (At the Cross Her Station Keeping).
Ideas for a Lent Sacrifice
One of the more popular Lenten practices is to "give something up for Lent". Many times people select some food or beverage to abstain from during the six weeks in order to make a Lenten sacrifice. And, that can be a very fruitful practice to offer to God your sacrifice of something which is valued by you in order to mortify your flesh during Lent.
Another idea related to that might be to give up something for Lent with the aim to give it up permanently and not just until Easter. Items in this category could include occasions of sin, bad habits, unhealthy relationships, or pasttimes that are decreasing the time you need for your duties and time for prayer.
A final suggestion would not be something to give up, but, instead, the idea would be to take on something that you want to be permanent even after Lent has ended. There are countless possibilities for these including additional prayers, reading Scripture, volunteering, helping at home with some chore or responsibility, and setting aside time for better communication with your spouse or other family members.
Also, with taking on something, you actually are giving something up at the same time. Whenever we develop a new habit, we are giving up time and energy that would spent on some other use of our time.
The Jesus Tree: Getting the Whole Family Involved
Are you looking for a fun Lent activity for the whole family? Consider the Jesus Tree.
The Jesus Tree is an activity to guide children through the season of Lent to Easter. Each day of Lent is marked by reading a story from the Gospels and by placing a felt symbol on the flannel Jesus Tree. The symbol represents the Gospel reading for the day. For example, on the first day of Lent, the Gospel reading is the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. The symbol is a pair of turtledoves.
You can make your own Jesus Tree with the instructions provided in the Jesus Tree kit. All of the instructions, Scripture readings, and pictures of every symbol are provided in the kit. The Jesus Tree kit is available in the store.
Learn More about the Saints with free Weekly Stories
We are all called to be saints. It is referred to as the universal call to holiness. It is not just a nice-to-have. It is necessary in order to obtain eternal life. The only humans in Heaven are saints.
Well, one way to get help in being a saint is to learn from the canonized saints of the Church.
And an easy way to learn about the saints is through stories about the saints. To receive free weekly saints stories, just sign up below to a receive a new saint story in your inbox every week.