When Lent rolls around each year, I find myself dreaming up a list of sacrifices I can make with the intention of becoming gloriously perfect by the time Easter arrives.
And every year, I’ve failed.
This year, I’m reminded of Lent as a penitential season set aside, not to demand perfection, but to redirect my life toward Christ, that I might participate in the joys of the Resurrection come Easter.
Compiling sacrifices all too easily becomes a selfish way for me to turn my heart inward, rather than outward toward others and ultimately, toward God. Fasting easily becomes dieting, almsgiving can turn into a show, and prayer quickly devolves into list-making.
Lent is a time for all Christians to renew the commitment they made to Christ at the time of their baptism. As Christians, Easter is the pinnacle of our faith – we have nothing to rejoice if Christ did not die for our sins and then rise again.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said, “We are called not just to abstain from sin during Lent, but to true conversion of our hearts and minds as followers of Christ. We recall those waters in which we were baptized into Christ’s death, died to sin and evil, and began new life in Christ.”
In his 2018 Lenten message, Pope Francis said, “Lent summons us, and enables us, to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly and in every aspect of our life.”
By devoting more time to prayer, we intentionally place Christ at the center of our lives rather than adding him to our list of people to whom we pay attention. Embracing silence, no matter how uncomfortable or how calming it might be, slowly starts to frame our lives around a life of prayer. This Lent, start by setting aside a small piece of time each day to pray, as small as five to ten minutes.
Teresa of Avila, a Spanish Carmelite nun once said, “Prayer is being on terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with Him who we know loves us.”
Through almsgiving, we give directly to others, sharing in the blessings we have received. Almsgiving, however, means giving time, not just money. Try volunteering a few extra hours or helping a friend with a project. Our hearts expand as we make room for God and for others.
Fasting gives us the opportunity to deny the pleasures of the world, not because they are evil, but because of the importance of setting aside earthly comforts in order to make more time for God. By setting aside seemingly small things, such as certain foods or listening to music, we slowly strengthen our will so that we might more easily submit to God’s will.
I find it helpful to focus on the little things that help us encounter God in places where we often forget to find him. Finding small things to be thankful for each day shifts attitudes of negativity toward good.
“Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy,” Pope Francis said.
And yet even as we enter lent intentionally trying to grow closer to God, we will fall. We will forget; we will just not do it. But Christ is overflowing with mercy, constantly calling us back each day to himself. The Book of Lamentations says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
This Lent, take the time to take a little step back and re-order your life.
“May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds,” Pope Francis said. “By listening to God’s word and drawing nourishment from the table of the Eucharist, may our hearts be ever more ardent in faith, hope and love.”
Josephine von Dohlen is a junior majoring in American studies.