Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Preparing for Lent: Seven Principles to Apply

By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 01, 2022 | In The Liturgical Year

I’m experiencing “Lent” arriving a bit early, having unscheduled activities that require my attention with the addition of my family being under the weather, allowing minimal writing time. In 2015, I had the flu, right before the Lenten season began, and in response I wrote about the Lessons the Flu Taught Me. Seven years later (and with through all the Covid hullaballoo), I find these are the same thoughts and applications I’m using to apply to my Lenten preparation. This post is a slight revision of the 2015 version:

With the beginning of Lent starting tomorrow, I’m running out of time to strategize how I will spend this holy season. I have had all sorts of posts planned, some partially drafted, but when you are short on time and sick, it’s difficult to write. But I realized my Lenten preparation was not all lost. Lent is not just about “giving up” something or mastering myself in self-help approaches. In fact, not being in complete control of my time gave me a better idea of how I should be approaching Lent.

1) His Ways Keep Us Guessing:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Sickness or unplanned events never come at a good time. They disrupts the routines and rhythms, and when it’s serious, all outside commitments are canceled and the home routine can be pared down to basic survival. Sometimes I don’t schedule all these extras that impact our lives, but I have to recognize this is the best thing for me because it is God’s plan.

While I’m contemplating my Lenten resolutions, I need to realize that God might have different ideas for me. The unfolding of His providence might throw a wrench in my seemingly best laid plans. So this Lent I will implement my resolutions and penances, but be ready to recognize when God makes other plans for me. I need to say yes to Him and let His plans take priority.

2) Don’t Be an Anxious Control Freak:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on.... But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. (Matt. 6:25, 34)

The unexpected happens, and sickness is one of those unexpected life events. We all can get sick. I can help boost my immunity, but when I do succumb to illness, how do I act when I get sick? How do I act when my family members get sick? Did I accept it grudgingly? Do I get angry? Do I give into anxiety because of everything that wasn’t being done? Or do I thank God for His blessing and place my trust and confidence in Him?

Sickness is a reminder to be open and vulnerable to His love, to surrender my trust to God and cooperate with Grace. I have to allow myself to expose and admit my weaknesses. I need Him and cannot accomplish anything (including the Lenten journey) without His grace. I will put all my cares, concerns and Lenten resolutions into His hands.

3) His Grace Is Always More Than Enough:

[B]ut he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong!” (2 Cor 12:9-10).

During all the different crosses in life, including following someone else’s schedule, headaches and other symptoms, I have to remember that I do not bear it alone. And God never gives us a cross without providing the grace to bear it.

Lent is not about me choosing a penance for self-conquest. It’s not to earn bragging rights on my personal triumphs. Any interior growth is accomplished only through His grace. Only with Christ can I triumph over my weaknesses and faults.

4) Relish the Time Alone with God:

But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you (Matt 6:6).

I think of the times when I was alone in my “sickroom” recovering; the isolation did help to remove distractions. It was easier to come face-to-face with God, even while wracked with pain, because there weren’t other interruptions. I was alone with God.

We can’t remove ourselves from the world to live a monastic life during Lent. Normal life continues. But we can find ways to trim the fat: eliminate the extra outside social commitments; turn off the noise of TV and music and other electronics; and reduce or eliminate the social media. The less outside distraction makes it easier to turn into our “inner room” to be alone and converse with God. It’s hard in our busy, loud lives, but Lent can be a time to make it a priority to be alone with God.

5) All Our Work Is Not For Public Display:

Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (Matt 6:1-4).

Sometimes our busy schedules or illness brings isolation. Especially when I was sick, I was very alone, partially to keep the germs from spreading to the other family members, but also recovery requires rest. While people care, no one really wants to hear all the gory details of the sickness and recovery. This was my private and personal struggle.

In the same way, our spiritual life during Lent is not a group activity or for public display. Our choices for fasting, praying and almsgiving are completely personal. It should be between us and God. We don’t need to list (or even brag) about the difficult penances we have planned. I’m not supposed to be wearing badges with my “accomplishments.” We do not need other people’s praise in our progress. Our Lenten journey is between God and us.

6) Learn to Detach Ourselves

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:21-24).

Sometimes when I am very sick or just feeling overwhelmed, I find little consolation in creature comforts. Food, even dessert, is not appetizing; TV, computer encourages eye pain and headaches and the doldrums. I have little interest in social media. All the little pleasures in life no longer gave any temporary satisfaction.

Lent is a reminder that we shouldn’t try to find consolation in material things. Only in God will we find true peace and joy. Denying myself some of those creature comforts this Lent might help in detaching myself. Little mortifications of innocent pleasures add up to the larger goal of only finding consolation in Christ.

7) A Little Help From (and For) My Friends:

I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35)

In the different circumstances that are out of my control, proceeding forward doesn’t mean charging ahead alone and then drowning because I have no help. I have been blessed by family and friends who can help along the way, with errands, helping with meals, etc.

We are not supposed to live in isolation, as we are all connected with Christ through His Mystical Body. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. This family relationship needs to be nurtured with charity. I need to reach out and love my neighbor. This is the almsgiving part of Lent. But there are also times when we are the helpless ones that provide that opportunity for others to practice charity and Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. Charity needs to flow both ways, as sometimes we are the giver and sometimes the recipient.

These little thoughts were nothing earth shattering, nor anything new, but they are a little clarification in understanding how Lent is much more than just “giving up” something or mastering myself. May your personal spiritual journey this Lent bring you closer to Christ.

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, mother, CGS catechist and authority on living the liturgical year, or liturgical living. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org’s liturgical year section. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: stan.sienkiewicz3391 - Mar. 14, 2022 10:54 PM ET USA

    This was a timely read for my wife and me. In mid-February my wife fell and fractured her hip. Since then we have had a surgery, lengthy stay in the hospital, doctor appointments, rehab, nurses, etc. While my Lenten plans are not going according to my expectation surprisingly the few times of silence become precious for reflection and other times of frustration allow me to ask for help. But Lent 2022 will always be remembered!