Lent is coming. And if ever the world needed real sacrifice and prayer, the time is now.
This year, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 26, and ends on Easter Sunday which is April 12. Members of the Catholic Church are urged to embark on this 40-day journey with enthusiasm, combined by fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. Fridays during Lent are also obligatory days of abstinence. For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, plus two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Church from age 14 up.
In last year’s Lenten message, Pope Francis said: “Sin leads man to consider himself the god of creation, to see himself as its absolute master and to use it, not for the purpose willed by the Creator but for his own interests.”
Case in point, using Lent as a sort of weight loss regimen. Giving up chocolate is probably best left to the kids. The Son of God didn’t spend 40 days giving up dessert, He fasted and was tempted by the devil in the desert. And he didn’t take Sundays off. It’s time for us to pile up that plate with prayer, instead. (Giving up wine is another story.)
Pope Francis has been attributed with the following advice that makes a handy guide for true fasting this Lent:
“Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
Fast from pessimism and be filled with love.
Fast from worries and have trust in God.
Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
Fast from pressure and be prayerful.
Fast from bitterness and fill your hearts with joy.
Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
Fast from words and be silent as you listen.”
As we consider ways to fast, some people may consider fasting from social media and opt instead to pray. Or to at least pray before we post.
Another option is to use the time we spend online with a different kind of app. Bishop Robert Barron has Lenten Gospel Reflections, and Dynamic Catholic offers Best Lent Ever videos emailed directly to the user. Lentsanity and the 40 Day Spiritual Workout designed by the Franciscan University of Steubenville are an option for the younger generations.
Men might consider starting Exodus 90 on Ash Wednesday while women could follow the inspirational playlist offered by BlessedIsShe.net. Magnificat offers a Lenten companion for a small fee. The Pray as You Go app offers an audio version of the stations of the cross that you can pray by yourself.
In addition to any sort of fasting, Catholics are particularly encouraged to make use of the sacrament of reconciliation during, and after, Lent. For those of us who haven’t been in a while, there are plenty of online resources that provide prayers and instructions. The Confession App and Laudate are just two options. Most churches, however, have instructional pamphlets and booklets aplenty on how to go to reconciliation.
Giving up chocolate or mocha lattes does have its place, but the $6 we can save not buying that coffee might best be directed to someone who doesn’t have enough food. The Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl app has a daily meditation and suggestions on how to sacrifice.
Maybe the best option is to join a 40 Days for Life campaign (40daysforlife.com) and help the unborn.