In our busy world, Lent provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon our patterns, to pray more deeply, experience sorrow and be generous to those in need“Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” This saying, commonly used in 12-step programs, reveals a real wisdom. It can be a good reflection as we examine the choices we will make during this holy Lenten season.
It is very simple. Our Lord is calling us to a “change of heart.” And we know from experience that nothing will change unless we change our patterns.
So, what needs changing? We start to come to know that by asking for help. “Lord, help me know what needs changing.”
Then, we have to listen.
Maybe I need to take more time in my relationship with God. Perhaps I rarely, if ever, hear the cry of the poor. Maybe I engage in any number of self-indulgent habits.
Beginning New Patterns
Lent is a time to commit ourselves to being more reflective — more observant or more aware of our “automatic” behavior. We should pay particular attention to our desires: Which ones need to be purified? Which ones may need to be abandoned? And which ones need to be acted upon?
Naming our deepest desires will guide the choices we make to establish new patterns for Lent. Lent is a wonderful time to establish new patterns of praying, eating, practicing generosity and practicing penance.
Let’s take a brief look at each.
Praying. This is a great time to begin daily prayer, but realistically. I can start by simply pausing when I wake up, taking a slow, deep breath and asking for God’s grace as I take on the day. Or I might want to visit Creighton’s Online Ministries website and spend time with the readings for the day, the Daily Reflections or the Praying Lent site.
Eating. This is not about losing weight. This is about being more alert. Monks centuries ago discovered that fasting — simply not eating — caused a tremendous boost in their consciousness. The whole purpose of fasting was to aid prayer — to make it easier to listen to God more openly, especially in times of need.
Practicing Generosity. Almsgiving has always been an important part of Lent. Generosity is an attitude. It is a sense that all that I have is a gift—a gift to be shared. It means that sharing with others in need is a personal priority. That’s quite different from assessing my needs first, and then giving away what is left over. Selfless giving joins us with Jesus, who gave Himself completely for us, and brings true joy to Lent.
Practicing Penance. Penance is a remedy, a medicine, a spiritual therapy. The Lord always forgives us. We are forgiven without condition. But complete healing takes time and a plan of action. Lent is a wonderful time to name the sinful, unhealthy, self-centered patterns that need changing — as well as the circumstances, attitudes and other behaviors that contribute to these habits — and develop a strategy of action. Lasting healing needs the practice of penance.
Putting It All Together
Lent is indeed how God draws us home as individuals. But it is also a very communal journey. We never journey alone, no matter how lonely we may feel. Let us share with each other, support each other and pray for each other on this journey ... on this pilgrimage to Easter joy.
Note: This article was edited and excerpted from the “Praying Lent” website established by Creighton University’s Collaborative Ministry Office.