WASHINGTON—Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, chairmanof the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis of the U.S. Conference ofCatholic Bishops (USCCB), offers “10 Things to Remember for Lent” as the Churchprepares to begin the season with Ash Wednesday on February 22:
1. Remember theformula. The Church does a good job capturing certain truths with easy-to-rememberlists and formulas: 10 Commandments, 7 sacraments, 3 persons in the Trinity.For Lent, the Church gives us almost a slogan—Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving—asthe three things we need to work on during the season.
2. It’s a time of prayer.Lent is essentially an act of prayer spread out over 40 days. As we pray, we goon a journey, one that hopefully brings us closer to Christ and leaves uschanged by the encounter with him.
3. It’s a time tofast. With the fasts of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, meatless Fridays,and our personal disciplines interspersed, Lent is the only time many Catholicsthese days actually fast. And maybe that’s why it gets all the attention. “Whatare you giving up for Lent? Hotdogs? Beer? Jelly beans?” It’s almost a game forsome of us, but fasting is actually a form of penance, which helps us turn awayfrom sin and toward Christ.
4. It’s a time towork on discipline. The 40 days of Lent are also a good, set time to workon personal discipline in general. Instead of giving something up, it can be doingsomething positive. “I’m going to exercise more. I’m going to pray more. I’mgoing to be nicer to my family, friends and coworkers.”
5. It’s about dyingto yourself. The more serious side of Lenten discipline is that it’s aboutmore than self-control – it’s about finding aspects of yourself that are lessthan Christ-like and letting them die. The suffering and death of Christ areforemost on our minds during Lent, and we join in these mysteries by suffering,dying with Christ and being resurrected in a purified form.
6. Don’t do toomuch. It’s tempting to make Lent some ambitious period of personalreinvention, but it’s best to keep it simple and focused. There’s a reason theChurch works on these mysteries year after year. We spend our entire lives growingcloser to God. Don’t try to cram it all in one Lent. That’s a recipe for failure.
7. Lent reminds usof our weakness. Of course, even when we set simple goals for ourselvesduring Lent, we still have trouble keeping them. When we fast, we realize we’reall just one meal away from hunger. In both cases, Lent shows us our weakness.This can be painful, but recognizing how helpless we are makes us seek God’shelp with renewed urgency and sincerity.
8. Be patient withyourself. When we’re confronted with our own weakness during Lent, thetemptation is to get angry and frustrated. “What a bad person I am!” But that’sthe wrong lesson. God is calling us to be patient and to see ourselves as hedoes, with unconditional love.
9. Reach out incharity. As we experience weakness and suffering during Lent, we should berenewed in our compassion for those who are hungry, suffering or otherwise inneed. The third part of the Lenten formula is almsgiving. It’s about more thanthrowing a few extra dollars in the collection plate; it’s about reaching out toothers and helping them without question as a way of sharing the experience ofGod’s unconditional love.
10. Learn to love like Christ. Giving ofourselves in the midst of our suffering and self-denial brings us closer toloving like Christ, who suffered and poured himself out unconditionally oncross for all of us. Lent is a journey through the desert to the foot of thecross on Good Friday, as we seek him out, ask his help, join in his suffering,and learn to love like him.
For more resources for Lent from USCCB, visit: www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-resources/lent/
Keywords: Lent, Ash Wednesday, reflection, Ten Things,Bishop David L. Ricken, Evangelization and Catechesis, U.S. bishops, USCCB,resources
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