Lent: Practical Advice

Lent 2006

From Deacon Michael Bickerstaff at The Integrated Catholic Life, comes a highly useful essay on the practical advice during Lent, focused on the practice of prayer, fasting and giving.  The benefits clearly are beneficial, but for some reason we all tend to struggle with the application of this basic, forthright and honest advice.

Read it all, but some favorite excerpts, first of all – why it matters now:

“Our families and our nations are slipping deeper into debt, finding it more difficult to make ends meet, even while working harder. Some are unemployed and have been unable to find suitable work even after months and, in some cases, years of searching. And because so many have spent so much living beyond their means, they are unprepared for these difficult and uncertain economic times. . .

“In years past, we knew right from wrong and too often chose what was wrong. Today, we seem not even to know right from wrong.

We all search for peace of mind and heart during these difficult times in our secular world, and as Deacon Mike indicates:

When life throws us a wicked curve ball, it seems only natural, what we might call “second-nature”, to look to the world’s solutions for our answers. And that is not all wrong, is it? When we are unemployed, it is prudent to brush up our resumes and work our networks to find that new position. When we are physically sick, it is prudent to seek medical care. It is even normal to see ourselves turn to God in prayer and petition Him for help and solutions.

“But do we dictate to God what that help and those solutions must be? What we must truly be willing to do, is to turn to Him in humility and trust, committed to faithfully surrendering our lives to His will. That is, we must welcome His answers, His teaching, and His vision (the Divine Plan) for who we are to be, even if those do not conform to our vision for ourselves.

In living God’s plan for us, we must give him our hearts, totally and completely:

“First and foremost, He wants our hearts. Prophetically, we are taught this by the words given by God to Jeremiah to pass on to us (Jeremiah 17:5-8). Cursed is the man who places his trust in himself alone, whose heart is not turned towards God. But blessed is he whose trust and hope is in the Lord. In Luke’s Gospel (Luke 6). . .

“Today’s culture speaks one message, our Lord speaks another.  Which will we listen to?  I want you to take a crucifix and gaze upon it – see the Incarnate God Who loves you and gave His life for you.  His sermon (on the Beatitudes) is not empty rhetoric, He lived His words.

“He does not expect us to do anything that He did not do Himself.  He will never place any circumstance in your life in which He leaves you alone.  He is with you always.  He has shown us that good can come from suffering.  Haven’t you experienced this?  You encounter some difficult challenge and wonder… nothing could be worse than this, especially at this time, only later to see – maybe after many years – how your life has been blessed as a result; even out of suffering and apparent failure.”

So, this Lent, the deacon makes for us these recommendations:

“During the coming penitential season, we are called to embrace and practice the three pillars of Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Lent is most of all to be a time of deep conversion for us.  These three pillars are central to this conversion and our surrender to the Lord.  They are inseparable from one another.

“Prayer . . . The Church teaches that Christian meditation should be one of our primary expressions of prayer – for a beginner, that means simply thinking about a truth of the faith, a Person of God, an event in the life of Christ, a passage of scripture, etc. Here are some tried and true ways to do this.

  • Pray the Rosary daily
  • Pray the Stations of the Cross every Friday

“Fasting . . . Fasting and other forms of self-denial, as spiritual practices of materially subduing and controlling the physical appetites of the body, helps us, by God’s grace, to enable the soul to more perfectly and freely pray. . . This is the connection of fasting to prayer and it is the secret to a better, deeper, more joyful life in Christ.

“Alms-giving . . . let us commit to living within our means, not just for our financial well-being, but also for the good of others . . . Let us commit to avoiding occasions of sin such as immoral movies, but also let them see us spending more time in family prayer and service to others and less in excessive entertainment. This opens our hearts to the needs of others.

He finishes with directly us to live these pillars of truth so we may deepen our love for God, to be examples to our children and show them that we’re motivated by “the love of God and our love for Him:”

“It is in this practice of the virtues that we overcome, by God’s grace, the practice of vice and possess the blessedness of God.  Give ourselves to God, surrender fully to Him, and then we will be rich in what counts.”

Excellent advice as we head into Lent this Wednesday; in fasting, let us pray that our families, our nation, and our Faith each benefit during Lent and grow close to Our Lord as we prepare for His Passion.

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