Thursday, February 19, 2015

If You Do Nothing Else This Lent.....

Can you tell how excited I am about fasting?
  “Oh my gosh, is today Ash Wednesday?” The person pointed to the smear of black soot on my forehead. “No,” I replied, “I actually clean chimneys for my after-school job.”

Yes, folks, Lent has started. I was grateful for my omelet this morning after feeling wiped out from low blood sugar all day yesterday. Fasting has never worked well for me; I can usually muster up the self-control, but I stagger around feeling as though I’ve been hit by a Peterbuilt for the duration of the day. Glad it’s over, until Good Friday at least. 

 I’ve mentioned in some previous posts the mentality and process of giving things up for Lent. Sometimes, Lent gets to be an unhealthy competition. We ask our friends what they are giving up and compare their self-control to ours. We go to breakfast with a girlfriend and smirk at her gigantic latte while we plaintively sip our water and congratulate ourselves for being so virtuous. We post on Facebook that we are giving up Facebook so all our friends can see, Like, and marvel.

Let’s not be hypocrites this Lent, performing sacrifices just so others can see them. Jesus had some very harsh words for the Pharisees who acted like so. Let our actions be done in secret, so our Father who sees in secret will know the true intentions of our hearts.

Read on….

1.     Pray at a set time every day. Maybe you already do this, but if you don’t, I can guarantee that it is the hardest thing you will ever do. Block out thirty minutes of your daily schedule to turn off your phone and computer, go to a quiet place, and be alone with God. Have some spiritual books on hand to page through and a pen to write down quotes that intrigue you. Pray a decade of the Rosary or a Divine Mercy Chaplet for a special intention. If it’s a Friday, pray the Stations of the Cross. I personally like to pray during the “Hour of Mercy” which starts at 3pm (when Jesus died on the cross) and ends at 4pm. Jesus revealed to St. Faustina that whatever we ask Him during this special hour will be granted. Also, try to make a habit of going to Eucharistic adoration once a week. I like to go on Fridays. Spend an hour (or as long as you possibly can) in front of the Blessed Sacrament (Jesus asked his disciples “Could you not watch one hour with me?” while He was in agony in the garden of Gethsemane; it’s really the least we can do for Him). 

"Well, I do need at least an hour for my lunch break..."
      Prayer is honestly the most beautiful and important thing you can implement into your life. If you do nothing else this Lent, let it be this one thing. Jesus is the most loyal and loving friend you could ever ask for. He never talks too much, ignores you, or abandons you. He knows exactly what you need and loves to give it to you, if you only ask Him. One of my favorite prayers that sums up His friendship goes like this:

Dear Lord! Make me remember, when the world seems cold and dreary and I know not where to turn for comfort, that there is always one spot that is bright and cheerful: the Sanctuary, where you wait for me in the Tabernacle. When I am in desolation of spirit, when all who are dear to me have passed away like summer flowers and no one is left to love me or care for me, whisper to my troubled soul that there is one Friend who never dies, one Friend whose love never changes: You on the altar. When sorrows thicken and crush me with their burden, when I look in vain for comfort, let me remember Your words: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.” Your friendship, Lord, shall be the dearest treasure I possess! It shall be my consolation when all who hold a place in my heart are gone from this world. 
When I am crushed and weary, when the hope I have lived for is gone, when sorrows and trials that I dare not reveal to anyone make my soul sink almost into death, when I look in vain for someone to understand me and enter into my miseries, make remember that there is Someone who knows every fiber of my heart, every sorrow and pain special to my particular nature, and who deeply sympathizes with me. O compassionate Jesus! When shared with you, the cross becomes lighter, and in Your Heart I find rest and strength.”

2. Give something away every day. This is harder than it seems, but the results are incredible. When I was in Florence, my roommate lived on the virtue of minimalism, only bringing one backpack for the entire month-long trip. The few clothes and pieces of jewelry she brought all had some special sentimental value to her; her sweater was from her grandfather, her ring was from her grandma, her bracelet was a gift from her dad. Her life was very simple, and the few things she had were very meaningful.

In a world ravaged by materialism, simplicity can have a powerful impact on our lives. Think about how much stuff you have in your dorm right now, in your bedroom at home, in your closet, in your jewelry box. How much of it do you actually love? Actually use? Get a cardboard box and put one thing in it every day. It will be easy at first, but as the 40 days roll by, you’ll need to make some difficult choices. If you have a lot of clothes to give away, donate them to a homeless shelter or consign them and use the money to have Masses said for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. 

"Steve, I'm giving up my salary for Lent."
"Good, Danno--I just got the bill for my haircut. I could use the extra cash."

If you don’t have a lot of stuff to give away, or if you’re running out of jackets and shoes, you can also give away your time, talking to a friend in need or sending an email to someone you haven’t contacted in a while. Whatever you decide to do, this spiritual exercise will help you appreciate what God has given you, and show you how you can give something back to Him.

2.     Love yourself.  I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m going to say it again: be kind to yourself this Lent. Learn to love yourself for who you are and what you can do, not for what you are not and what you can’t do. So often, especially as college students, we are far too hard on ourselves, constantly pushing ourselves to move faster, work harder, be better. We rarely take time to appreciate what our bodies and minds are capable of, and when we do take a break from the rat race of life, we feel guilty about it. 

      The truth is, if we don't love ourselves, and if we don't believe that God loves us, there's no way in hell we can share His love with others. It's just not gonna happen. We have to change ourselves before we can change others. 

This Lent, take a few moments each day to do something that you truly love. I like coloring books; I color a page a day and give them to friends. I like running; I’ll go to the track, plug in my favorite adrenalin song (which is, more often than not, the Rocky V theme), and enjoy the feel of my shoes pounding the floor and the wind blowing through my (very) short hair. Sometimes I take a piece of chocolate cake from the dessert tray in the caf and don’t allow myself to feel guilty about it, even if my meal-mate is smugly munching a salad.

We are not defined by our weight, our grades, or our ability to shoot a basket (I’ve never been able to do it). No, we have our identity in our relationship with God and how we extend the love that He gives us to others. In fact, if you are someone who struggles with fat-talk, food guilt, and shunning mirrors, your Lenten penance should be eating dessert, not forgoing it. And you should read this article. 

"Actually, my Lenten penance is eating dessert. Don't laugh. I have a rifle."

Regardless of what you decide to do this Lent, ask yourself this question: “What kind of Catholic/Christian do I want to be at the end of these 40 days?” Then plan accordingly.

May the Force, er, grace of God be with you.


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