Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the three tried and true ways that Christians have prepared for Easter over the centuries. When Ash Wednesday comes, we may feel overwhelmed or unprepared for this great spiritual season. Here are 10 tips for making this Lenten season a time of growth in holiness.
1. Ask God how he wants you to grow during Lent.
Too often, our Lenten resolutions can be self-centered: “How do I want to improve myself during Lent?” The first step toward growing in holiness during Lent could be asking God to show you the ways in which he wants you to grow closer to him.
2. Read the Gospels.
The call to “repent and believe in the Gospel” is not a generic statement. This specifically refers to the Good News of the four Gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If you read two chapters a day during Lent, you will have read all four complete Gospels by the time Easter comes!
3. Go to confession.
The sacrament of penance is the most concrete way we can show our repentance before God. If you never go to confession, go at least a couple times during Lent. If you typically confess every month, try going every two weeks. Confession humbles us and helps us avoid sin in the future.
4. Keep one resolution between you and God alone.
It can be helpful to discuss our spiritual lives and Lenten resolutions with friends and family; this can be a way to support each other in Christian community. But we do not need to share everything. If everybody knows about our Lenten penances, we could be tempted to pride. Keep in mind the words of Jesus: “Your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:4).
5. Don’t just give something up — give something!
Almsgiving helps us to become less self-centered and think more about others. Is there a project that you could work on for a family member, friend, or neighbor? Is there a charity that you have always wanted to support? Be generous with your time, talent, and treasure. God will make up for where we lack.
6. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Lent is not a time to punish ourselves or make our lives miserable. Lent is about making space for the grace of God to work within our hearts. Self-reliance is an age-old mistake that we can be tempted to fall into. Remember that holiness is about God’s grace and our receptivity.
7. Your penance should not be someone else’s penance.
Giving up coffee may be a good penance for someone who relies on it in an unhealthy way. However, if no coffee in the morning is going to make you crabby with your family and coworkers, then please continue to drink coffee. A Lenten sacrifice should not test the patience of those around us!
8. Focus on prayer before all else.
Daily prayer is a must for anyone trying to grow in friendship with Jesus. Without prayer, penances are not going to bear much fruit in your life. Visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and have a conversation with him. Be open to how he stirs your heart.
9. Prepare for Sunday Mass.
The Lenten Sunday Gospels are some of the most powerful readings of the church year. Commit to reading the Sunday Gospel before attending Mass each week. Familiarity with the text can transform our hearing of the Gospel in the liturgical assembly and our understanding of the priest’s or deacon’s homily.
10. Read a good spiritual book.
Many of us have a stack of books that we plan to read — someday. Carve out some time from your normal Netflix or Disney+ routine and dedicate it to spiritual reading. You might be surprised how quickly you can finish a book with only 20 minutes a day spent reading. The Mandalorian is great but nourishing your mind and soul with solid spiritual food will be something you never regret.
Father Dominic Vahling is parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and co-chaplain at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield.