Preparing for Lent

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Mar 05, 2019

I recently picked up a book from the library by Katrina Rodabaugh entitled Mending Matters. It’s a book on how to recycle clothes by repairing, patching, stitching, and darning but in a decorative way. She had begun a fast from fashion, trying to buy minimally and only from “ethical” and humane (by her standards) fashion sources. I chose the book to learn the stitching. I don’t necessarily agree with all her views, but I was struck at how some of her language sounded so familiar. She mentions a “fashion fast” and being intentional about her clothes, not purchasing new clothes, recycling and repurposing used clothes, and being particular about all the materials chosen so that they were made in a “safe” way and not harmful to others. To fast, to abstain, to be intentional, to embrace a difficult challenge for an end goal that will help myself and others—these actions parallel what we embrace every Lent, just an entirely different intention. We both are choosing to be ascetic in our lives. But for Catholics, it’s for a higher spiritual purpose linked to our redemption, celebrated through the Holy Triduum. Lent is the opportunity “to deepen the meaning and value of our Christian lives, and it stimulates us to rediscover the mercy of God so that we, in turn, become more merciful toward our brothers and sisters (Pope Benedict XVI, 2008).” Lent is a time to renew our baptismal commitment in preparation for the culmination of Lent in the celebration of the Paschal Mystery particularly at Easter.

Lent always begins at the most opportune time for me. This year I am experiencing a winter slump and appreciate having a jumpstart to get reignited, refreshed and renewed. Every year I need to make a Lenten plan, both for myself and for our entire family, but I have to fight my two tendencies of either going on automatic pilot and just “doing what we did last year” or being frozen in my decision, like a deer in the headlights, and not knowing where to begin.

Look at the Christ’s Pillars of Lent

The Mass readings of of Ash Wednesday and Thursday after Ash Wednesday unfold the basic program of Lent. According to the Prophet Joel, we need to turn our hearts back to God:

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God (Joel 2:12-18).

Excerpts from Ash Wednesday’s Gospel include the three pillars of Lent:

...When you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret....

...When you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret....

...When you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden....(Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)

St. Paul helps us remember to not waste this time, but to act upon this opportunity now:

Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2).

The Thursday after Ash Wednesday summarizes and gives us our approach for Lent:

If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Luke 9:22-25).

Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving: These are the three categories my Lenten resolutions cover. I must act now and take up my cross. After reviewing my own needs, I discuss with my sons on how to examine their daily lives and areas that need work, and what examples fit in each of the categories:

  • Prayer—How is the daily plan of prayer? Does it begin with the Morning Offering and end with an Examination of Conscience? Does it need some tightening and refreshing? Can extra prayer time be added, such as visits to the Blessed Sacrament, extra daily Masses, etc.? Spiritual reading also falls under this category, so each of us will choose a special book or two to read this Lent.
  • Fasting—Besides following the laws of abstinence and fasting and adding personal restrictions in extra food and entertainment, fasting can also be applied to the way we treat each other. Our focus will also be fasting from being critical, or retaliating with anger and hurtful words or talking back to adults or speaking unkindly of others. We will try replacing with kind and positive words.
  • Almsgiving—This is the harder category for children to fulfill, for they don’t always have money to give to others. But this category can also be seen as “Acts of Love.” The acts of love should happen first at home with the family (and sometimes is the hardest work to do), and then we extend outside of our home. My sons as they get older are finding ways to do works of service, such as helping in a food pantry and helping with food drives. But they also see ways to give up treats and extra expenses and share that money for those less fortunate.

It’s important that my husband and I help guide our sons, now 11 and 15, but don’t make all the decisions for them. We will come together before Ash Wednesday with our personal plans and also the family plans—less TV, less outings and treats, adding Stations of the Cross, and perhaps another daily Mass or two during the week.

It’s important for me to not overdo the good intentions and plans. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, or take on too much and fail. Worse yet, I can fall into pride in the idea that all this was accomplished on my own without cooperation with grace.

Incorporating the Senses

I have always considered engaging the senses important when living the Liturgical Year at home. But during Lent it’s also important to disengage some of the exterior senses so as to turn on one’s interior senses to God. So with each of the senses I plan positive additions and also reductions.

Sight
+ Our house will have usual display of violet on the table and a crown of thorns, and Lenten thoughts on the mantel. On the table we have a daily display with rich Lenten art.
-We will try to lessen visual distractions by reducing the amount of TV, social media and Internet.

Hearing
+ We will play some of our beautiful Lenten cds as background music, and listen to podcasts for meditation.
-There is need for silence, so we can hear that still small Voice. We will aim for a Lenten season has the “sounds of silence” with less external media, such as radio music.

Smell
+Besides the smells of the Church’s liturgy with the candles and incense, we will be lighting violet candles on table for dinner (which also fits in the sense of sight). Other smells will be the fresh spring air and clean air from spring cleaning.
-We will notice that there won’t be fancier aromas from fine cooking and baking, but rather the scents of simple meals.

Taste
+The tastes of Lent will reflect the meals of fasting and abstaining, with no meat on Fridays and simple meals throughout the season.
-This is probably our biggest area of reduction—trying to be less pleasing to our senses, reducing tastebud pleasures with our meals and snacking and drinks. As a family we are giving up sweets and desserts.

Touch
+We try to find ways of contemplation through our hands. We have enjoyed as a family doing calligraphy, pysanky (Ukrainian eggs), and beginning our vegetable garden.
-The touch we need to reduce is too much time on our smart phones for the adults.

Open to God’s Personal Plan and Mercy

I always make resolutions and plans for every Lenten season, but I try to leave an opening for God. He usually sends some extra Lenten “blessing”—extra unexpected crosses. Last year I had to deal with migraines and eye problems (and they have returned this year). Nothing is possible without His grace helping me through this season. All my possible weaknesses and failures in Lent are the path of embracing His Mercy.

The Lenten season unfolds so many possibilities. It is a gift of renewal. Making a plan and working on our resolutions can help us embrace that gift.

For further reading, see my previous posts on the Lenten season:

Lent:

Roman Stations:

Feasts of Lent:

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

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