Comer_Michael_7955-180The season of Lent is quickly approaching. Ash Wednesday will be Wednesday, March 6. It is important to prepare for this season so that we might use it as effectively as possible. Lent is a type of retreat for the entire Christian community to prepare for the celebration of Easter, but more importantly, to deepen our relationship with God and to develop our own spiritual strength.

The three traditional Lenten disciplines are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We should try to practice each of these throughout the year, but we especially focus on them during the season of Lent. Except for a few fasting and abstinence rules, the Church leaves the actual practice of these disciplines up to us. I want to make some suggestions for you to consider.

Prayer—This is the most important of the spiritual disciplines, for it is the one that specifically speaks to our relationship with God. The most important thing that a Christian does is pray. As you have perhaps heard me say, a Christian who does not pray is like a body that does not breathe. He or she is dead.

How is your prayer now? Do you have a regular prayer routine for each day? If not, would you consider establishing such a routine? There is a saying that to fail to plan is to plan to fail. Just saying that I am going to start praying more means that I will probably not begin praying more, at least on a consistent basis. We need to know when we will pray and how we will pray. When would be the best time for you? Morning, afternoon, evening? Most people find that in the evening you are too tired and will fall asleep while trying to pray. But find what is best for you.

What prayers do you use now? Do you pray the Rosary? Do you read the Bible or other spiritual reading? During Lent, the Parish on the Same Page groups will be reading Life of the Beloved by Father Henri Nouwen. It is an excellent book to read as part of a group or on your own. I have recently been encouraging people to consider the Liturgy of the Hours, or at least part of it, in their daily prayer. Go to your app store and download iBreviary. This is a free app. Spend some time just getting to know the site. Find the Breviary and look at the various hours. Don’t worry about figuring everything out at once. The app also provides the Mass scripture readings for the day. The website for the USCCB also provides the readings of the day. Reading and meditating on these can be invaluable. Whatever you choose to do with that time is fine. But do something.

Fasting—The Church’s rules for fast and abstinence are: Those who are 14 years and older are to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent including Good Friday. Those who are between the ages of 18 and 59 are to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting consists of one full meal a day, with two smaller meals that do not add up to a full meal.

These fasting guidelines are minimal. It is a good thing to do more fasting than this. This is the source of the idea of giving something up during Lent. Whether it is food or not, giving something up falls under the rubric of fasting. The purpose of fasting is to deepen our spiritual muscles so that we can say no to ourselves and especially our bodily demands, so that we can say yes to God more fully. It can also be a way of demonstrating our sorrow for sins that we have committed.

Almsgiving—Traditionally, almsgiving involves giving money to the poor. But as a Lenten discipline, it can take other forms. We can give of our time, our talents and our treasure. Perhaps it will be visiting the sick and shut-ins, volunteering at Parish Kitchen or some other facility that serves the needy. Getting involved with Saint Vincent de Paul would be a practice that would carry over from Lent to your regular life. Even making calls to those who are shut-ins or family who live away could be an act of love that would qualify as almsgiving.

As you consider how you will spend this Lenten season, tailor your use of the spiritual disciplines to your particular situation. We are not just jumping through hoops here. We want to come to Easter with our spirits renewed and revived with a deeper connection to Christ and a deeper commitment to following him as his disciple.

— Fr. Mike Comer