Praised be Jesus Christ! What are you giving up for Lent this year? That question was posed a while back by the newspaper and people were invited to write in and share their sacrifices. Sometimes people say it’s better to do something positive than to give up some bad habit. Without becoming polemical (i.e. argumentative – do you notice how from time to time big words are used in this column . . . . the goal is to improve your chanc- es on Wheel of Fortune and cross word puzzles, not to mention impressing people with your expansive vocabulary! Sorry for the verbose (i.e. wordy) aside.) why not do both this Lent?
First, determine something you can live without, the sacrifice of which would be a daily reminder that it’s Lent. Giving up sweets is an easy choice for me, because like Father Stoetzel, I have a sweet tooth. Giving up Facebook or going out to eat or watching TV are also robust choices. Lent is a long season and we need something to help us remember that penance is good for us because it strengthens our will and bends it toward God’s will. Doing something positive is also a great way to sanctify these holy days and now is the time to determine our plan of action. And planning these things is essential to making spiritu- al progress; Benjamin Franklin once sagely pointed out, “Those who fail to plan can plan to fail.” My parents made it a point of visiting the sick and shut-ins before Christmas and Easter. Maybe we volunteer at Saint Vincent’s or other community events (e.g. every spring Marshfield hosts “Empty Bowls” and “Feed My Starving Children). Now it should go without saying that the goal of Lent is to deepen our friendship with Jesus. That means it’s important to take a good look at our spiritual life. A classmate of mine, Father Roger Landry, just wrote a book titled Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God. I read it while deer hunting in Alabama and it is really excellent; at 120 pages, it’s short and very helpful in showing us how to take tangible steps to living our faith more generously. For example, there’s a chapter on how to start the day by get- ting up at a set time and saying our Morning Offering immedi- ately. If you’re anything like me, it’s a struggle to be consistent, largely because it takes a lot of discipline to go to bed on time. Father Landry even provides a version of the Morning Offering that he prays and I share it with you here: “Thank you, Lord, for the gift of another day. Please help me to live it well. If it proves to be my last day on earth, help me to live it in total un- ion with you so that it will be my first day in eternity. Grant me the graces I need to overcome all the temptations you know I’ll face today. Awaken me to receive everyone the way I would receive you, and help me to be for them a reminder of you and your holy priesthood. Help me to make this day a liturgy of the hours, my heart an altar, and my work a commentary on the words of consecration. Into your hands, I commend this day, begging the intercession of my guardian angel and all the saints.” Lent is a great opportunity to work on these practices, which over the course of our lifetime help us to become more grateful, humble, and generous. Another practice that is espe- cially important for Lent is praying the Stations of the Cross. You can pray these at any time, but Fridays during Lent are the best time because we more naturally enter into Our Lord’s Pas- sion and death as we meditate on the 14 stations. Blessed Alvaro del Portillo once wrote, “The Way of the Cross is not a sad devotion . . . . Christian joy has its roots in the shape of a cross. If the Passion of Christ is a way of pain, it is also a path of hope leading to victory.” So, what are you giving up for Lent and what spiritual progress are you planning to make? “Those who fail to plan can plan to fail.”
May these forty days of Lent bring us closer to Jesus and closer to each other!
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin