05 February 2015

Less than two weeks

...until Lent starts! Are you excited? Well, maybe not. But even if you aren't excited, are you ready?

I love observing the liturgical year. It's honestly one of my favorite parts of being Catholic; so many days have special meanings, or particular celebrations or memorials... There's such a sense of connection to the family of believers throughout the centuries, as we celebrate saints' days and walk the same annual path of prayer and praise that so many hundreds of thousands of Christians have traveled before us. Our day-to-day lives can be enriched by living the liturgical year, much more than by merely taking note of a few of the highest feasts throughout the year and then not really thinking about it the rest of the time. 

And in a particular way, the Church gives us the season of Lent as an opportunity to focus more directly on God and the things that separate us from Him. More overtly than any other liturgical season, Lent asks something of us every day. Even the secular culture recognizes that; it's common knowledge that Catholics "give something up" for Lent. 

There are actually three "pillars," if you will, of Lenten observance: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. All three should factor into our day-to-day Lenten observance in some way or another. The "giving something up" falls under fasting, along with observing Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as fast days, and abstaining from meat on all the Fridays of Lent. Fasting certainly isn't limited to food: while the sacrifice of giving up sweets for all of Lent can certainly be valuable if every time you pass up something sweet it reminds you of Christ, examining our conscience and making a real effort to permanently "give up" some bad habit that stands between us and God is also a good exercise of fasting. 

Almsgiving is pretty straightforward: finding ways to give back to God of the gifts He's given us. Many people donate the money they would have spent on whatever they've given up to charity, combining their fasting and almsgiving. Some days, the "alms" we're called to give aren't monetary: responding with charity when we're wronged. Doing a chore your spouse hates—or one that you've asked them to do and they've forgotten—without saying anything about it. Reading the same picture book for a twenty-first time in one morning. Spending an afternoon volunteering at a soup kitchen or pregnancy resource center.

Prayer can mean carving out time to read and meditate on Scripture or the writings of the saints, or adding particular prayers or devotions to your regular prayers—the Divine Mercy chaplet, the Prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian, and the Stations of the Cross are all popular during Lent. There are several sets of reflections for the Stations of the Cross geared toward children, which can allow the whole family to be more engaged.

A few resources to help with your Lenten preparations:

Lent Cometh: Perhaps everything you'll ever need to know to have the best Lent ever, a collection of Lenten posts from Catholic All Year.
Lenten Activities for Kids from CatholicMom.com.
7 Ways to Have a Good Lent from The Catholic Gentleman.

If you're looking for a daily reflection sort of thing, check out Fr. Robert Barron of Word on Fire (emails), or the Magnificat Lenten Companion (ebook), or Matthew Kelly of Dynamic Catholic (video reflections).

What resources are you using for yourself or your family this Lent that I've missed? Share links or titles below!

Don't let Ash Wednesday sneak up on you this year! If you start making a plan now for how you and your family will observe Lent, you'll be ready to enter more peacefully and prayerfully into the season. (I have a pretty good idea what we'll be doing this Lent, but haven't quite put all the pieces together yet... I'll post more when we get it figured out!)

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