Growing our hearts this Lent
I don't know about you, but I often mentally brace myself for Lent. The season feels so long, so winter-ridden, and in this time of lingering pandemic, especially isolating. Yet, the Online Etymology Dictionary reminds me that Lent comes from an Old English word meaning "lengthening of the day," "spring."
Perhaps we're called to approach Lent not as a marathon of tasks meant to break our will but as a blossoming born of accompanying Christ through the desert, an opportunity to grow in our relationship with him along the way.
As we begin Lent, it may be useful to make a spiritual "game plan," for cultivating this relationship. It's important to remember that though we take on Lenten practices, the practices are primarily meant to orient us toward relationship with Christ and others. In the process, we grow our hearts.
If you're looking to meaningfully deepen your relationship with Christ, below are a few ways to nourish you on what may feel like a long road to Easter. As the reality of COVID-19 has continued to make some traditional forms of gathering difficult this year, these ideas may be incorporated into family and individual life at home.
-- Listen to sacred music. If you enjoy praying with music, be sure to check out the work of Harpa Dei, a choir whose mission is evangelization. The four siblings who make up Harpa Dei sing from a variety of Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish traditions and in multiple languages.
Listening to their music is a peaceful experience that connects listeners to a rich treasury of music from around the world. You can find Harpa Dei on YouTube, and their music is a wonderful accompaniment to personal or family prayer time.
-- Honor St. Joseph. Pope Francis has declared this year the Year of St. Joseph and shared a beautiful apostolic letter titled "Patris Corde." Consider reading "Patris Corde" with family or friends and reflecting on the fatherhood of St. Joseph. One of the letter's themes that has personally inspired me is, "Tenderness is the best way to touch the frailty within us."
You might especially honor this tender father in March and on Wednesdays (both are dedicated to St. Joseph) by praying the Litany of St. Joseph, reading about him in Scripture or engaging in the many prayers or spiritual works that will allow you to receive a plenary indulgence this year (see yearofstjoseph.org). Also consider celebrating the solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19th, for which there are many traditions.
-- Fast from negativity. One Lent during my college years, my Newman Center challenged students to fast from negativity, giving us a small practice to do each day, like sitting next to someone we didn't know during a meal or staying off social media for a day. With family or friends, consider creating your own personalized fast with small, doable, daily practices.
-- Fast from self. Add extra beauty to your Holy Week by engaging in traditional practices that promote emptying of self. Tenebrae services might not be happening in your parish or diocese this year, but it's possible to find the readings and psalms for this beautiful service online and to read them with family or friends. On Good Friday, consider making hot cross buns, the traditional food eaten on this day to remember Jesus' death and provide needed sustenance.
Another way to fast from self is to engage in prayerful reflection on the experiences of biblical figures (like Mary Magdalene, Simon of Cyrene and Mary, the mother of Jesus) during the passion and death of Christ by reading Scripture or praying through the Stations of the Cross. If stations are not offered inside your church this year, pray the stations as you walk through your neighborhood or near your church. Some churches may have outdoor stations.
-- Give materially. With family or friends, consider choosing an organization, community service or religious group to financially support this Lent. Though many organizations are not open to volunteers at this time, financial help allows them to continue serving others.
You might decide to collect not only spare change but more information about the organization's mission, charism and goals. How might you or your family creatively live out the spirit of this organization or community in your own lives? Don't forget to pray for this organization; send a card or spiritual bouquet with your financial gift to give your offering a personal touch.
-- Give time or talent. Though many of our usual ministries may not be fully up and running, you can still make your time and gifts available to others this Lent. This might be in the form of tutoring a student via video call, virtually gathering friends for a Bible study (check out Father Mike Schmitz's Bible in a Year study) or calling homebound parishioners to check on their needs.
If you stumble along the way this Lent, remember that our Lord delights in our offerings that like the widow's coins may be small. We don't walk the road alone; he is traveling beside us and is a gracious companion. May our spiritual practices lead us to better knowing him.
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(Lindsey Weishar is a poet and freelance writer from the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois.)