So Lent is here, and some people may still not be sure as to what they might want to do as they prepare. So I thought of a little guide that might help you in the upcoming Lenten Season. It will provide an outline that will present key ingredients to aid you in creating plans, prayers, reflections that will maximize the spiritual preparations as you make your Lenten journey through the next 40 days. Before I go into the guide, a better understanding of what Lent is, why Lent is so important and how that ties into our spiritual life with Christ during the Easter season is in order.
What is Lent?
Lent is the forty-day period before Easter, excluding Sundays (unless you are Eastern then you include Sundays), which begins on Ash Wednesday (today) and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). It is also not a Christian New Year resolution so much as Spring Training for the Soul (to borrow a baseball term).
Why the Forty Days of Lent?
The number forty has a significant symbolic value within the Church. The number has mainly biblical roots stemming out from the traditional standpoint of man’s relationship with nature and God. Forty represents a time of trial and a probationary period before a covenantal punishment or promise come term. It is during this period that presents both a literal and figurative sense man holding fast his interior life as he struggles with the hardship or trial taking place in the wilderness. Hence, the continually revisiting biblical theme of man’s movement from conflict starts with seeking the promise of order out of the chaos that obstructs him from his end which is happiness (loosely stating it). It is important to look at each of the examples in the old testament because it provides a better understanding of both the number forty and what it will mean regarding Easter (and eventually Pentecost if you wanted to go a little further).
Beginning with Genesis story Noah and the Ark. This idea of a new earth tends to echo the Divine Creation Story with seven days of rainfall but instead of bringing life sin bring a flood תְּהוֹם “deep, sea, abysses”symbolizing the chaos and destruction. As the Flood and judgment was not without purpose as Noah and family resided in Ark for forty days and nights. There is a punishment for sin but penance and mercy that is brought forward with that forty days and nights and with it a new beginning.So going back to the very beginning of Genesis in Creation the before order there was chaos and with it new life. Those waters that brought death and destruction based on the chaos and sin are transformed into the promise of the covenant, so water now ordered to become life-saving. A Sort of like Baptism, in case you might be thinking it. As he begins his new life with the covenant and it promises similarly to us. This one example but with a lot of depth in light of New Testament especially. So it is important to keep this in mind that we like Noah waiting forty days before Good Friday to which Christ finished the old covenant and established a new one.
In Exodus this covers the same theme, there was again a waiting period for forty days and nights before there was reestablishing of the covenant between God and Israel as his chosen people. Then Moses had come down from Mt Sinai twice to bring forth the Ten Commandments because of their breaking of the covenant the first time. Then Moses sends out spies who explored the Holy Land for Forty Days. Before the Victory of David over Goliath, there were Forty Days Terror of Goliath. Then David defeated the mightiest warrior philistines (Goliath). There is human error that is brought on by the fall from grace, but once we step up again there will be that covenant, and it promise and with it a victory.
Elijah Escaped Jezebel for fled to a cave in Mt. Sinai for Forty days and nights. The prophet Ezekiel laid on his side for forty days as the symbol of the Babylonian captivity that would last for Forty Years. In the story of Jonah, God gave the ancient city of Nineveh Forty Days to Change their ways. These are outstanding examples for they are presenting that continuous cycle and theme of penance, punishments, an opportunity for change, covenants and promises.
Then finally, we come to the iconic scene where Jesus spent forty day and nights in the
Desert following his baptism. In Matthew’s Gospel His success over temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil are met from there he enters into his ministry. The temptations representing the fulfillment to come in parallel with the failures that Israel continuously goes through for the 40 years they wandered in the wilderness. However, Luke’s gospel end the forty days trial with
“And when the devil had ended every temptation he departed from him until the oppotune time”(4:13).
So for Luke the ultimate challenge had still not yet come. The last temptation would come in the garden of Gethsemane (22:3, 39-53). So the last and greatest temptation would come right when Jesus would submit himself to the obedience of the Father and fulfill Israel’s side of old covenant, so then God answers those given the promises, and the New Covenant would be established. From that scene, we revisit the theme of penance, punishments, an opportunity for change, covenants and promises. From this act of total self-giving Jesus gives us the new covenant found in and through the Church. Hence, once the resurrected Christ shows up for another forty days he is establishing his twelve Apostles who will be the pillars of Church, and handing over the keys to the house is Peter before he ascends to heaven and the Holy Spirit descends upon the apostles to spread his message. Lent presents the real deal what it means to love and so it sets the preparation period before the ultimate event is to take place in Jerusalem, unto Calvary and then from Christ’s Tomb. Hence, why the Church finds that Lent and the forty days to be so important.
Regarding Fasting and Abstinence
Well, I will explain a little bit more concerning why during Lent we have to practice fasting and abstinence. This tradition has the biblical roots, that are important. Fasting is a spiritual self-discipline that can be found in both he old and new Testament. In fact, Jesus ordered his disciples to fast more than once and thought it was so essential that he even gave then instructions on how to do so in the Gospel Mattew 6:16-18. As the Venerable Fulton Sheen would say
“The Church fasts; the world diets. Materially there is no difference, for a person can lose twenty pounds one way as well as the other. But the difference is in the intention.”
The intent being to grow in virtue through self-denial. However without bodily injury, so you have to watch how much you eat without pushing your body to the point of starvation. This can be very difficult to do try to make sure you have a spiritual companion to watch out for you. Now when it comes down to abstinence, we can go back to Daniel 10:2-3,
Now when it comes down to abstinence, we can go back to Daniel 10:2-3,
“In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies,;no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.”
So abstaining from certain foods is also a discipline that the Church finds to be an important act of penance. Thus, self-denial is going to contribute to penance for we need to be actively aware of this, as it is giving up on something that is good but also expresses reparation of our sins or sins that we committed toward others. I know that some state that part of the reason we say from do not eat meat on Fridays goes back to the medieval Church because meat was a delicacy of delicacies that was reserved for celebrations. So part it is partially in response giving up something for Lent it had to be of supreme value for you to give up something as precious, like meat (at least for the man of nobility who could afford giving up his meat to feed the poor). There is over a much more intricate reason as to why Catholic abstain from eating meat on Fridays (more particularly during Lent). It is a commemoration of the crucifixion on good Friday. When Friday comes, Catholics abstain from meat because the only flesh that they may consume is fish. The fish is a symbol of Christ which is called the (ΙΧΘΥΣ) a Greek acronym for Ίησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ“, ( Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr) which translates into English as”Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.” This particular tradition goes as far back as the Early Church. It is noted that Catholic’s are supposed to abstain from meat throughout the entire year, but the Church has made it so that it is according to the bishops. Who ask us to abstain from a good on each Friday of the year, however, this is not enforced and thus not many Catholic are aware of this rule. All of these concepts are connected, and it truly bring together what Lent truly means in the light of both the crucifixion and Easter. So with this in mind, I hope you can join me as we come in our guide.
How to Prepare!
A good strategy for maximizing your seasonal lenten benefits is planning. I do not think I can emphasize point enough because if you are seeking to maximize your Lenten experience and bring yourself closer to Christ. It will mean you need to know what you can handle at that moment whether you’re a student, a parent or an average Joe in the workplace. Try to seek out your materials and people you will need to accomplish this. As you plan up your Lenten season what part of your interior life with is lack? What out the seven virtues do you have the most trouble with? These will be key in setting up your plan, and it is in its own way a spiritual exercise of reflection directing your desires through your reason which in time can strengthen your will.
Make sure you have a writing utensil. The reason that I say use a writing utensil is simply due to in our age technology can be handy for helping us organize and plan. Make sure it has ink or lead. The are a lot of psychological and spiritual benefits of writing things down. It’s known to strengthen memory because when you are using your small motor skills is addressed through motor memory in the sensorimotor part of the brain, which can apparently help people secure a connection between reading and writing. Writing can also be put into your long-term memory rather than your short-term memory. At the very least it can also aid in processing our thoughts and fixes pre-thought out ideas. If you are still not convinced then, we could always take a the spiritual route that when it comes to the handling of a pen, there is a genuine intricacy about writing that does give a presence of self. Writing is by its essence a very sacramental contribution to your prayer life.You are by writing performing an act that can become spiritual but with a physical format. Why? Becuase writing matters (pun intended, and yes I am joking).However do not feel obligated to write every day, if you could write something at least once a week as a part of your Lenten practice. I would suggest for you to do it, write a prayerful reminder and take a look at every morning. I guarantee that you will get something good out of this practice.
Try to make sure you can make it can as a part of daily routine. My ultimate suggestion is to make yourself a Lent Season Journal or planner if you have enough time. Whether it is in the Journal or a planner, put down a key word that will help remind you of what you are working for. Look at what you have improved in your spiritual life and what you still need work on. My suggestion this is an excellent exercise before going to confession because nine times out of ten we confess the same thing every time we come out of confession. But awareness is keyed in breaking the bad habits because it gives us the knowledge. Part of this season is to put your interior life into a perspective that prepares for what is essentially a test. This will be contingent the plan you build.
This is all going to take some time that is why practice takes such a long time is there is a lot of effort that is being done. So Saint Francis DeSales would say
“Have patience with all things but first with yourself. Never confuse your mistakes with your value as a human being. You are perfectly valuable, creative, worthwhile person simply because you exist. And no amount of triumphs or tribulations can ever change that.”
FASTING, PRAYER, AND ALMSGIVING, OH MY!
“Never forget that there are only two philosophies to rule your life: the one of the cross, which starts with the fast and ends with the feast. The other of Satan, which starts with the feast and ends with the headache.”
― Fulton J. Sheen,
Fasting is preparation for the journey we take on with Christ to Jerusalem. To look at it another way, Christ entrance into Jerusalem is symbolic of David’s triumph. David and Christ are born of House of Bread, which we take to Jerusalem, which is the House of Prayer (the temple resides). Once there come into receiving our salvation (Christ death on the Cross and His resurrection on Easter). The we are called to expresses this preparation through physical discipline that has the intended effect on spiritual formation. That leads into the spiritual aspect that is prayer.
When it comes to Prayer, remember the three D’s Discipline, Deliberation, and Direction. Prayer itself is a discipline, not merely just a requestions such as a wish or want. For instance, as an example something that I will be doing as a spiritual exercise attempting to be more aware of our eastern brothers and sisters. So I will be researching and exercising little prayerful disciplines that are deriving from the Eastern tradition. To see through the lens that shows sacramentality of life that God intended for us to see but through daily activities. So an example of that would be facing east during prayer and standing instead of kneeling (Which I am prone to do). For instance, in the eastern rite part of the reason, they will face east is because of baptism. During their baptism, they face west to renounce sin, evil, and the devil and profess Christ. So in facing east they rise with Christ as they are rising in the same direction as the sun rises, they are revisiting those baptismal promises in a light of their word.
You should get the gist to what I am saying about discipline. Part of it is inputting various prayerful elements in your life. And it does not have to be to that extreme you could say a rosary a day, or the chaplet of divine mercy. But it is meant to bring you awareness.
As it is important to express love, worship, adoration, in little prayerful ways as a part of your everyday experience. He deserves all of it. Deliberation is the kind of prayer that would best advance your relationship with God. Praying can vary from the Stations of the Cross, Rosary, Meditation from Ascent to Mount Carmel, Dark of the Soul (Sequel to Ascent to Mount Carmel), Poustinia, The Way, The Magnificat, Holy Scripture the list goes on. I will see if I can provide a little book list in case you wish to know more. Also, I suggest you do this with Proper Guidance, preferably seek a spiritual director who can provide proper support and knowledge of the faith to make sure you are on the right track. As a side not if you do not has a Spiritual D. do not be afraid to ask, even if you might have a tendency to be shy because God has your back and he will find you a good person if you ask. It is through this deliberation on the spiritual challenge that you like to take on; this season hopefully should provide you with some Direction that ought to lead you back to Christ and His Church but with a new perspective. With the use of the three D’s method, you should achieve a more robust interior life of prayer that you ought to take back to the final destination after our forty day waiting period that is the Cross on Calvery and the Tomb on Easter Sunday.
Practice makes perfect or rather Grace does. Part of this Lenten season is practicing virtue. That is directed through love shall be part of our exercising of almsgiving. What is a virtue? A virtue as St Thomas described it, is a good habit. That is why we call it a training period and preparation. In the context of almsgiving, one is performing an act of mercy for the poor or the destitute. And there are various ways of doing this which you can discern with prayer. So when Easter comes, we can respond with joyfulness and appreciation God gift in two-fold, in what you have but also what you can give.
Catholic Swiss Army knife:
My inner Viking warrior could not resist! A final note before moving on is this using this beautiful weapon/tool metaphor that connects significantly to how and why almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are complimentary and have a necessary relationship with Lent.Remember this for it is important that when you fast you give time to God in prayer. What you present with prayer you have money or food give to those less fortunate. For And what you offer in alms giving you can also offer in prayer. All of, which is actualized fully through the love that is reflective of the Caritas (Love) of the Trinity. So as you give you are also receiving, and while you are receiving you are also giving. Think on that… 🙂
This journey ought to be with God. So this means you should learn about yourself and your relationship with God. If you are reading through the gospels, or Bible (New Jerusalem Bible translation is preferred or for the Gospels go with the Ignatius Bible). Also, know that Failure comes before success in most cases, and my best example would be looking at the human race we fail, (nearly 100% of the time), but it does not stop us from moving forward toward that success. So we can reflect on those moments when we did not feel moved or encouraged because those are going to be powerful memories in the long run. So train to improve and be better than you thought you could be.
You lead by example, and the Holy Spirit shall be leading as you make the journey. So as you are being taught you are also teaching others.
As St. Francis DeSales says “Bloom where you are planted.” You make the best what you are given. The psalmist says “Be still and know that I am God”(46:10). The translation of the word “be Still” actually translates “To Let Go” because that is how will to know God. So when You Let Go, You Can Grow.
The Lenten Season is for meant for the ultimate end which is to love God more. If this is the case, then the means to that end must be done in a way that would by final standards be good. So as you move through Lent and life on a more general level remembers to keep it in the perspective. That is to say, God! For he is our beginning and our end. So when you hear those words
” Dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.” Gn 3:19
Just remember to see Lent in this mindset that what we are doing is a physical sign for an invisible reality that is meant for us to participate efficiently in the divine life of God, aka it is to love Him more intimately. Thus, we practice ourselves to seek the truth through moments of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we can possess a fuller appreciation of the Easter because we see the ordered promise of what Christ has given us.
If you feel you want to learn more here are some link below to help you out.
I will be going over John Paul II Poetry so no link as of yet 🙂
Also the Hobbit, which is going to be a book/ animated movie review coming soon
For anyone looking for meatless Lenten Recipes