|CHOOSING LENT - ACTING LENT
The reason that choosing and acting Lent is
so important is that we are body-persons. We experience things with
our senses, relish them with our imaginations and we share in God’s own
creative and loving activity when our hearts and hands work together for
and with others.
These ideas represent a variety of choices
and acts that have come to our minds as we reflect upon our Lenten journey.
There are countless others that will fit our experience as we continue
to reflect on the question: What might I do to grow in my appreciation
of your love and my desire to share it with others?
Here are a few ways to choose and act Lent.
More will be added soon.
Symbols in Our Home
Our Service for and with the Poor
Spring Cleaning for Freedom
Family Conversion – Relationship Conversion
Realigning our Priorities
The Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy
SYMBOLS IN OUR HOME
We need to choose to let our homes be a place
full of the holy – things that help raise our minds and hearts to God.
Our world is full of so many images that lure our minds and hearts elsewhere.
Here are some symbols that will carry the ongoing meaning we give them,
for us and for our families and loved ones.
We probably all have a crucifix in our home.
If not, Lent might be a wonderful time to buy one and place it in a central
place. Even a child’s drawing of Jesus’ death for us can be a powerful,
stirring reminder of God’s love.
A simple bowl of water, in a central place,
can be transformed into an ongoing reminder of our journey to the font
of baptism for the renewal of commitment and life in Christ. Perhaps
we can pray over it. “Lord, may this water remind us of our baptism
and be a blessing for our home, where our dying and rising in you is lived
each day. Bless us, as we sign ourselves with it each day.”
Perhaps a bowl of sand can help us remember
our journey. God led the people in their journey in the desert.
Jesus himself reenacted that journey to face his own temptations.
The desert can be a place of retreat, where there is a freedom from distractions.
It can be a good place to be led and to face our temptations.
Imagine having a candle in a central place
in our home. Imaging praying over it together as we begin Lent. “Lord
thank you for the gift of your Light in the midst of all darkness.
Let this candle be a symbol of our faith in your presence among us.”
And imagine if we light this candle whenever we feel tempted away from
the Light of Jesus, when we are experiencing tensions in our home, whenever
we need special graces. Imagine how powerful experiencing the lighting
of the New Fire will be at the Easter Vigil.
Perhaps we have Baptismal candles that were
given to us or our childen at Baptism. It might be very meaningful
to bring them out and lay them near our central candle. We can remember
the words that were spoken when we received this candle: "Receive
the Light of Christ. ... Keep this flame burning brightly."
Perhaps we have the white baptismal garments
that have been used in our family for baptism. These could be taken
out. We can remember the words, "See in the white garments you wear,
the outward sign of your Christian dignity. Bring this garment unstained
to the joys of everlasting life." We can let it remind us of our
white garment, when we see the newly baptized come out of the font of baptism,
and be given their new white garments. It is a symbol of the priesthood
in Jesus that we all share.
The Word is so important for us during Lent.
Perhaps the prominent presence of a Bible in our home can represent for
us our desire for God’s Word in our lives. Imagine the experience
that could be ours if - when we feel a new inspiration or a softening of
our heart, or just a sense of God’s love – we pick up that Bible and simply,
reverently kiss it.
Are there other symbols which make our particular
journey full of meaning and faith?
OUR SERVICE FOR AND WITH THE POOR
This doesn’t need to feel out of our reach.
In so many reflective ways, we can make choices to act in solidarity with
those for whom we desire to have a special care, and from whom we know
we will learn much about faith and trust in God.
Soup kitchen - food pantry
So many people depend upon our charity, in
societies that can’t yet provide for an equal distribution of our resources,
and offer means for a growth in dignity and justice in attaining them.
Imagine if we take some time to research how the poorest of the poor are
cared for in our area. We may want to practice our generosity in
preparing food, serving it ourselves or sharing what we have with food
pantries that offer daily survival for those in need. Imagine if
we felt inspired to go deeper. What graces might come to us if we
were to go to a meal program and sit with and visit the poor? What
fear would we need to overcome? What might we learn if we ask how
they are getting along? Or ask them about their faith? Perhaps
we might grow in courage to bring our children or friends. How might we
return to our lives with greater freedom and trust?
What else might we do, that fits with our circumstances
and the needs around me and in the world?
SPRING CLEANING FOR FREEDOM
So many of us have accumulated much more than
we need. It bursts from our closets, overflows our shelves and clutters
our lives. Lent might be a wonderful time to deliberately release
ourselves from the many “things” we own by cleaning out our closets and
simplifying our lives in a prayerful and intentional way.
On one level, this is ridding ourselves of
things we don't need, or things that we hated to part with except that
they are so "out of style." Certainly, many of us have many things
that are "extra" or "unneeded" for us, but could be wonderful for those
who can't afford to buy clothes at a store.
Another level of this journey into personal
freedom is to ask ourselves how much I really do need. How many sweaters
do I want to choose to have? How many jackets, sport shirts, dresses,
shoes? How much jewelry? How much sporting equipment?
How much electronic equipment? How many sets of silverware or dishes?
How much of so many things we have in our lives? We can get as serious
and go as deeply into this as we desire to find fruit. This would
not be the question above: should I get rid of what I don't need?
This takes us into giving up good stuff, perhaps stuff I'm attached to,
because I want to experience the exercise of freedom. I do this because
I sense that I'm not free in some areas that are tremendously important
for me, important for my salvation, and growing in freedom before the things
of my life can be a great grace. This freedom, too, will place us
in greater solidarity with those who find such great happiness and joy
in trusting in God, while having so much less than we imagine we could
What else might I do, that fits with my circumstances
and the needs around me and in the world?
FAMILY CONVERSION - RELATIONSHIP CONVERSION
Lent can be a good time to reflect on the people
who mean the most to us and the relationships we hold most dear.
For those of us who live in industrialized countries, it can be jarring
to realize that our time together as a family might amount to no more than
a few minutes a day. Our lives are independent as we scatter in different
directions each day for work, school or childcare.
This season of reflection and renewal might
be an appropriate time to pray about our family lives and how we can be
more thoughtful and prayerful about Lent as a family.
Perhaps we could hold a family meeting over
dinner or some other relaxed place. We could discuss Lent and the
symbols of the season using the resources here. We might want to
talk about how our faith life is not a journey we make alone, but one we
are in as a community, as a family.
One Lenten family practice might include a
daily act of love for our family. Can we look around and see some
small thing that needs to be done to make our lives together better?
Is there laundry to sort or dishes to be washed? Is there a floor
that needs sweeping or a room that needs dusting? Just one effort
by each of us each day can make a dramatic difference in sharing the workload
in the family. The grace we are reaching for goes beyond getting
the garbage taken out, for example. We know it is a grace when my
experience of taking the garbage out, feels to me like an act of love,
an act of solidarity as a family. Perhaps the simplest way to prepare
for this grace is to pray:
Dear Lord, may this simple, ordinary sacrifice
of my time for the sake of those I love, draw us closer together as a family
whose hearts you are drawing to yourself in the togetherness of our family
One of the real graces of Lent has to do with
forgiveness and reconciliation – mercy and healing. This is never
simply a matter between Jesus and me. It always has something to
do with my family and with my relationships – how we are with each other.
What in us needs mercy and healing? What patterns that we have need our
reflections and common family choices and actions this Lent?
REALIGNING OUR PRIORITIES
All of us have, at one time or another, named
certain things as our "priorities." From time to time, when we become
aware of our not doing something that is really important, we say, "I have
to make that a priority." Lent is an important time to do a top-to-bottom
review of what we value and what we actually do, in our every day
lives. Whenever we do this, we always discover that something
needs re-aligning. We discover that there are values we hold, commitments
we've made, growth we desire, that simply don't make it on the list of
our "actual priorities" - that is, the things that take the "first
place" in our lives. For example, I might say, "My family is my firstpriority!"
My family might say otherwise. I might say, "My faith is among
my top priorities." But, an honest self-examination may show otherwise.
I may say, I hear the words of Jesus that we will be judged really on only
one thing: how we care for "the least" of his sister and brothers.
I may only occasionally even notice that feeding, clothing, caring for
or defending the marginal never makes it to my priority list.
A thorough review of what is most important
to us, and what seems to be important to us by virtue of what we actually
is prime Lenten activity. If what we are hoping to do during Lent
is to grow in personal freedom, based upon our growing sense of God's love
for us, and our clearer vision of who we are, and our deepening desire
to be more closely aligned with the heart of Jesus, then we will want to
do this personal review very carefully. How else might we ever hope
to get to a heroic, courageous, self-sacrificing following
of others? What chance will care of the poor ever have of making
it into our priorities? How will we ever be able to break old self-defeating
habits and secure the establishment of new ones that help us be who we
want to actually be?
I can start a variety of ways, but it would
be wonderful if we could start with prayer. We can ask God - in our
own words, and with desire - for the grace to do this review with real
honesty, and with a real desire to grow in freedom and integrity.
Who am I? What is my purpose?
Then, I might want to spend a few days reflecting
upon - in the background all day long - who I am, and what my purpose is.
Then, I might spend a few more days reflecting upon who I say Jesus is,
and what this means for me. It doesn't make sense to start with a
review of what I really value, if I haven't first examined if my values
"fit" the truth of who I am and who I am called to be.
Naming my values
Then, I can name what is most important to
me. A piece of paper would be very helpful, so that I can put it
into words and keep "editing" or refining the words as I go along.
I will try to be as explicit as possible. Instead of saying, "My
kids." I might spell out the values that are important to me in my
saying that my kids are a value, e.g., "It is extremely important to me
that I be there for and with my kids when they are encountering key growth
moments in their lives, in so many areas - homework time, for reflection
time, in relationship struggles, in wins and losses, in relaxing and having
fun." We want to "open up" our values, as we name them. What
does it mean to say I value "my faith" or "my relationship with God" or
"service to others"?
Spelling out the values in actions
Then, with each value, I will list what that
value will mean in concrete behavior. For example,
I may have written a value statement that is quite wonderful, "My relationship
with my wife is the most important relationship of my life: I need
her for my faith, and for my everyday strength; I want to be there for
her, supporting her faith, affirming her, and caring for her in all her
needs; I want to spend the rest of my life growing together in service
of others." That would be an incredibly important set of things to
say about what my wife means to me. The real work, the real "choosing"
happens when I spell that out in real actions that will give life to that
valuing. The true test of a value's importance to me is how it survives,
in competition with other important values, in the contest for time in
my everyday life. I can tell what I really value, by what I really
do. When I feel like I'm not doing what I really value, then I need
to realign my priorities.
Don't forget to be complete
One of the serious "mistakes" in trying to
realign priorities is that I can easily overlook "operational priorities"
that I might not be to aware of, or that I might not be to proud of.
If I'm going to "re-arrange" what is important to me - moving some things
higher up on the list and others things lower down - then I need a complete
list. There probably are things in my life that I just do regularly
- I read the paper every morning at 6 a.m.; we go out to dinner every Saturday
night; I have "season tickets" to something. I need to name these.
If "watching TV" is a big priority in my life (something I spend 4, 6,
10, 20 or more hours a week doing), or if I have to watch something
every week, I should name it. If escaping into sexual fantasy is
something I do quite regularly, I should name it. Smoking, drinking,
surfing the net, collecting little ceramic things, fixing up the basement,
are things that can become pretty engaging, are often time and resource
consuming, and should be named.
Establishing new priorities
When all of my priorities are lined up like
this, I am then ready to re-value them. We don't want to rush this
part of the process. Perhaps we will want to discuss this review
with some of the people who are intimately involved with the choices I
will be making. And I will want to assess if I have the freedom and
grace I need to make the decisions I want to make and to begin to establish
new patters. That is precisely when it is important to turn to God
with my fresh desires (trusting that they have been inspired by God's initiative
already) and ask what I need.
The next step is to name what my "first priorities"
are. This may sound ironic: how many "first" priorities can
I have? In this sense, my first priorities are those that I will
do. In any competition for time, these choices will win
out. That is what defines them as my priorities. My relationship
with God, with my family, with my faith community, with my friends, with
others in need, might be in this category. This is what I do not
want to neglect any more.
Then, it is very important to name the second
level of priorities. These are very important, and I don't want to
neglect them either, but I want to make sure to distinguish them from my
priorities. I may, for example, have "my work" priorities here.
They are very important to me, but I want to realign my priorities so that
my first ones actually come first.
Then, I will clearly put a lot of other stuff
in the third level of priorities. Now this process gets to
be purifying. I may discover that I spend more money on smoking or
recreation or knickknacks than I give in support of my faith community
or the poor. I may realize that I spend more time watching TV than
I do praying. I may find it difficult to surrender something I "always
do" for something I now want to make sure I always do.
Since this is where we may need the most grace, this is a very important
time to turn to the Lord and ask for help and freedom. Dying to self,
in order to be who I am called to be for and with others, is not easy at
first. With practice, it can become a source of great joy and fulfillment.
And, with God's grace, it will be part of my contribution to the Reign
of God's coming closer and closer.
Building in a review time
Because this realignment will take practice,
it will involve some back sliding at times. In times of crisis or
under pressure, we all regress back to behaviors we were most comfortable
with. Our new priorities can vanish. That is why it is critical
to keep reviewing how we are doing. During this Lenten time, we may
build in a daily examination of how we are doing. With time, we may
want to develop the practice of reviewing our day to day fidelity to our
priorities every Sunday morning, or some other time during the week.
With each examination, we need to give thanks to God, for the grace
that has inspired and sustained this life-giving realignment of our priorities.
One of the real challenges that we too often
find in our contemporary, busy lives is finding time to be together as
a family. It is especially difficult to find opportunities to pray
together. And, if prayer, other than going to church on Sunday, hasn't
been a family tradition, it can seem very "unnatural" to introduce it as
something we might do together as family. Here are a few possibilities
- call them dreams - for ways we might pray as a family, during Lent, or
at any time of the year.
Prayer Before Meals
One of the most natural times to pray, is as
we sit down to eat. We can begin, or "break the ice," by simply saying,
pray or Let's just pause for a minute to give thanks.
One of the challenges of doing this prayer well, is that we don't want
our food to get cold. This leads us to do the prayer quickly.
Brief prayer doesn't have to be without substance or power. And,
it doesn't always have to be after the food is on the table.
For a change of pattern, we could gather everyone to the table for prayer,
and then bring the food to the table.
We begin with a prayer of thanksgiving:
|Lord, we thank you
for the blessings of this day
and for this time together as family.
We thank you for this wonderful meal
and for this hour we can share it.
We then turn to God and ask for what we need.
Help us to remember those who have so much
less than we do.
Bless us as a family.
Help us to grow in love and care for each
We ask you to comfort and give strength
to those who are sick or struggling in
We can conclude with, We ask this through
Christ our Lord or with a traditional table prayer, which we could
Bless us, O Lord, and these your gifts,
which we are about to receive
from your bounty
through Christ our Lord.
always begin with thanksgiving. The "reasons" we give for our gratitude
can be very specific, and draw us into this prayer from our "real"
place we are in this day. So, we can say that we are grateful for
this Lenten journey, which offers us renewal and prepares us to celebrate
Easter with greater freedom. We might say, We thank you for
being with us each of us today, while we were apart, and for being
with us tonight. Perhaps we will thank God for some special grace
that has occurred today. We may want to take time to let each person
name one or two things for which he or she is grateful.
This, too, should be very
to us as a family. We all have family and friends who are sick or
in need. Perhaps there is a special challenge or difficulty that
one of us is going through. We can turn to God with our concerns
about a crisis that is going on in our city or country or some part of
the world. With practice, this brief moment will help us be mindful
of our desire to turn to God in all our needs. It will help
us grow in a sense of compassion and care for so many people. Again,
we may want to take time to let each person name one or two prayers of
options are from the Book of Common Prayer.
Give us grateful hearts, our
Father, for all thy mercies,
and make us mindful of the
needs of others;
through Jesus Christ our
Bless, O Lord, thy gifts to
our use and us to thy service;
for Christ's sake. Amen.
Blessed are you, O Lord God,
King of the Universe,
for you give us food to sustain
our lives and make our hearts glad;
through Jesus Christ our
For these and all his mercies,
God's holy Name be blessed
through Jesus Christ our
Praying at Other Times
There are many other times or occasions when
we can develop the habit of praying together. These examples might
inspire our own creative or spontaneous prayer.
In the Morning:
It can be quite transformative of our family
bonds, in faith, to pause very briefly to pray together. This might
be a spontaneous prayer, while we are laying in bed with our spouse, Lord,
be with us today, or
Dear, I ask the Lord to give you strength and
peace today at your meeting. Perhaps we are rushing around each
other in the kitchen, grabbing breakfast. It can be wonderful to
pause to pray, simply asking the Lord to be with each of us in what we
are about to do.
In the Car:
So many of us spend a fair amount of time
in the car, often with other members of our family. These can be
nice times to begin or end the trip, with a very brief prayer. Bless
our shopping tonight. Help us be grateful for the gifts you give
us. May this food/these clothes help us be mindful of those who have
so much less than we do. Or, Bless Ann at practice today.
Give her gratitude and delight in the gifts you give her. Help her
to do her best, to encourage others, and to learn what you offer her today.
Or, Lord, as we go to Bill and Ann's for dinner, we thank you for our
friendship with them, and we ask you to bless this night with all the graces
you might offer us in the care we have for one another; we ask this in
Jesus' name. Or, Lord, as we drive to church, we thank you
for our faith and for this chance to be together with our parish community;
please allow us to hear your Word, to give you thanks and praise, and to
be nourished for the mission you give us this week.
Over the Weekend:
Often the weekend offers some special moments
together that can be wonderful times of prayer.
We can say brief prayers like this at so many
special times. It can be very important to pray together, while cleaning
up, in preparation for guests coming for dinner, or an overnight slumber
party. We might share the responsibility for "designing" the family
prayer for special occasions: Birthdays, Anniversaries, the beginning
and ending of a school year, when one of us is beginning any new endeavor.
We may want to add some special prayer time if one of us is experiencing
a personally anxious time or crisis. For example, if one of us has
to wait for an appointment for a biopsy, and then wait for the results,
we might place a special candle on our dining room table, and light it
each evening as we remember that person in our prayer.
It can be so easy to add gestures that bring
powerful prayer to our family life. One of the simplest and most
natural is to trace a cross on a loved one's forehead. It can speak
volumes to a young child, if his or her parents were to give them this
gesture of love and prayer. This ritual can be done everyday, when
we part for the day, or at bed time, or it can be reserved for special
prayers of blessing before a big event. And, it can be a powerful,
faith-filled ritual for a husband and wife, as part of an every day pattern,
or at times of great intimacy, to touch each other in blessing.
Any of the "symbols" that we refer to in our
page, "Symbols in Our Home" can be a source
of family ritual. Perhaps we have our own family gesture or
ritual that speaks of our faith or draws us into prayer.
Praying for Each Other:
The most important part of family prayer is
perhaps the easiest to overlook - how we hold each other up to the Lord.
Even when we are not physically together, as a praying family, we want
to pray for each other. In reality this means that I have a pattern
of talking with the Lord about the people I love most dearly, each and
every day. They become part of my very relationship with God.
Whether we are a married couple with young children, or I am a single parent,
or if my children have grown up and begun lives of their own, this aspect
of family prayer is so important. My spouse and I may not share
our faith; perhaps my spouse doesn't pray at all; but I can talk with the
Lord about my spouse every day - sometimes asking for help, sometimes just
expressing my gratitude, sometimes begging for the gift of faith for my
May our Lord bless our praying, in the community
of our family, these days of Lent.