Ash Wednesday

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.

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Josephine von Dohlen
Josephine von Dohlen is a senior from Minneapolis, Minnesota who appreciates the communicative power of journalism and the community that it fosters. A graduate of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., she has previously interned with Catholic News Service and the Santa Barbara News-Press. At Hillsdale, she is a member of the Dow Journalism Program and majors in American Studies. Email: