SET SOME GOOD GOALS: Every Ash Wednesday, we often put the same old Lenten practices to the test. We attempt to eliminate some nonessential elements from our life for forty days. We begrudgingly avoid bacon and cheeseburgers on Fridays. We boast about our loyalty to fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We seem to easily rise to the challenge of sacrifice during Lent. However, our main problem lies in the fact that our sacrifice is often misguided. Lent requires a redefinition of the word “sacrifice.” We assume that the word “sacrifice” means giving something away or denying ourselves of something. Lent should raise our awareness of the things we take for granted. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ makes us realize that what we possess is even more powerful than what we are giving away. In this year of Mercy, we should remember that the abundant nature of God’s love outweighs sin, selfishness and even death.
It isn’t enough for us to slide through Lent just observing the fast and abstinence laws or giving up chocolate. We should all undertake the Lenten process, an inward cleansing and purification, for oneself and the family. The process needs to be planned and organized, i.e. set SMART goals. SMART is an acronym meaning that our goals are: S – Specific, M– Measurable, A– Achievable, R– Realistic and/or Relevant & T – Time based. Try asking the question: What shall I and my family do this year for Lent? Goals and activities should be realistic and reasonable, and parents should make sure that their children know why these practices are being adopted, rather than merely forcing them upon them.
After deciding our goals, both individual and family’s, we need to arrange our schedules, plan the different events and adjustments to our life to put these resolutions into practice. Our daily life doesn’t stop just because Lent is here. The challenge is to observe the spirit of Lent and perform the works of Lent while living in a secular culture. We need to remain in the world but not become a product of it. It may be helpful to read Pope Francis’s Message for Lent 2016 for inspiration. This year’s theme is “He became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
There are three principal works for Lent, as taught to us by Christ: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. More categories from Catholic tradition can be added, such as Good Works, Education, and Self-Denial. All are linked to each other. It is through prayer though that we know Christ and more clearly understand His Will for us. Through our prayers we open ourselves to charity, generosity towards others and self-denial to ourselves.
- Prayers “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God” (St. John Damascene). In prayer we communicate with God and work on our relationship with God. There are many forms of prayer that we can practice: Daily Mass is amazing, but If this is not possible, read over the readings from the Mass as a family. Reception of the sacrament of Penance is transformative. Attend the Stations of the Cross in our parish. Included in our “Prayer” category we can add our “education and reading”. We all need spiritual enlightenment and we can find this through spiritual reading, both individually and as a family.
- Fasting and Abstaining We can fulfill the minimum requirements of the Church for fasting and abstinence, but there are other forms of abstaining and fasting. We should remember that when we do “give up” something, it should be completely, not saved for later. The money we save from not buying a cup of coffee should be given as a donation to charity. The time we don’t watch TV should be spent doing spiritual reading, or family time. How about these?: Refrain from complaining, gossiping, grumbling or losing one’s temper. Reduce or eliminate time surfing the Internet or playing video games and so something more productive. Abstain from favorite drinks, desserts or foods to be healthier. Give up smoking, caffeine, beer and/or liquor. Eat less at meals, or eat fewer snacks between meals. Try doing all this without complaining.
- Almsgiving and Good Works In the opening Gospel of Lent on Ash Wednesday, Matthew 6:1-6; 16-18, we are told to pray, fast and give alms. Almsgiving is not a thing of the past, but still a necessity in becoming saints. Almsgiving is also tied closely with fasting. Whatever we give up, the money we save should go to the needy. It should be given away to the missions, the Church or a worthy charity. In a family with small children it helps to make this a visual practice by, for example, having a jar or box in the center of the table as a reminder and measure of progress. Under this category we also include good works. It is also considered “almsgiving” to give one’s time and goods to those who are in need, i.e., donating time at the parish, giving clothes to charity, visiting the shut-ins and elderly, driving those without transportation and other similar practices.
Blessings on your journey!