“During this Lent, let us all ask the Lord:
Make our hearts like yours.”
Every year, God blesses us most abundantly with the Church and its liturgical cycle. Through this cycle, we follow the life of Christ through both Word and Sacrament. One season of this liturgical calendar is nearly upon us: Lent.
One of the primary purposes of Lent is to prepare us for Holy Week, which culminates in the celebration of Easter. The splendid and glorious Easter Vigil celebrates the pinnacle of our Catholic faith—the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Then Easter day is extended all the way through the Octave of Easter until the Sunday following Easter, which is the Solemnity of Mercy Sunday.
We recall through all of this that God’s mercy is infinite and open to all who simply approach Him in trust. “Jesus, I trust in you!”
Therefore, in order for us to celebrate the apex of our faith, it is essential that we live consciously, fully, and actively the Season that precedes Easter, and that is the Season of Lent. Our Lenten preparation should be like preparing for the great celebration of Christ’s victory over death. As we know, the success of the party is in direct proportion to the prior preparation for the party. Hard work and intense effort are necessary for any successful enterprise, and this can also be applied to our spiritual life!
Here are five concrete activities that we can undertake so as to live a fruitful Lent and experience the immense and intense joy that the Risen Lord Jesus has prepared for us.
First, the Ashes
Lent is launched on Ash Wednesday. Ashes are imposed, usually on the forehead. However, it is essential that we understand the meaning of this Liturgical action; otherwise, there is danger of falling into superstition. Ashes are not to be considered a good luck charm, like a four-leaf clover or rabbit’s foot, much less a passport to heaven. Religion, not explained, can easily degenerate into mere superstition.
The meaning of ashes is double. The priest, while imposing the ashes, can say one of two short phrases which actually come from Sacred Scripture. They are:
- 1) “Be converted and believe in the Gospel.” (Mk. 1:15) The meaning? In Lent we are all called to a deep conversion—to renounce sin in our lives and to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. (Lk. 10:27);
- 2) “Remember that you are dust and unto dust shall you return.” (Gen 3:19) The meaning? We are challenged to meditate seriously upon our mortality—that is to say, that our life is very short and eternity is forever and ever and ever. Either we will be saved and go to heaven, or we will be lost and go to hell, and this is forever and ever—eternity!
Lent is a season of penance. By far, of course, the best example of all, and that includes penance, is Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The first Sunday in Lent we contemplate Jesus who is in the desert for forty days and forty nights. (Mt 4:1-11) What is Jesus doing?
By means of example for us, Jesus is fasting these long forty days and nights. At the end, the devil comes to tempt Him and Jesus conquers the devil. The lesson for us? We all are in spiritual battle. Our enemies are three: the devil, the flesh, and the world. To conquer, especially the devil, we must imitate Jesus and apply ourselves to penance—some form of fasting, prolonged prayer, and finally a serious meditation of the Word of God. Jesus responded to the devil’s first temptation: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
As mentioned earlier, we contemplate Jesus in deep and prolonged prayer in the desert, by which the Master and Lord is empowered to conquer any temptations the devil launches at Him. Therefore, for us we must increase our prayer life; we should find more time to pray, and to pray with greater intensity. The following will be some practical suggestions to help out:
- Liturgy of the Hours. To engage yourself in praying more in the time of Lent, pray the official prayer of the Church termed “The Liturgy of the Hours.” Composed mostly of Psalms, this beautiful prayer of the Church can serve as a most efficacious means to live out Lent fully and fruitfully.
- Way of the Cross. A wonderful Catholic Tradition. In this contemplative prayer we are invited to walk the Way of the Cross with Jesus and Mary (the 14 Stations), and strive like the Blessed Virgin Mary to share in the passion and sufferings of Jesus, and to console our Suffering Savior.
- Seven Sorrows of Mary. It is highly recommended that we pray and meditate on the seven sorrows of Mary: 1) The Prophecy of Simeon, 2) The Flight into Egypt, 3) The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple, 4) Mary meets Jesus on the Way of the cross, 5) Mary stands underneath the cross as Jesus dies, 6) Mary receives the dead body of Jesus in her loving arms, 7) Jesus is buried in the tomb, as Mary contemplates. Contemplating these scenes can help us to live our Lent through the eyes and the heart of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows.
- Biblical Meditation. The Season of Lent, as well as the Season of Advent, are strong Liturgical Seasons in which the Church highly recommends that we read and meditate upon the rich treasures found in the Word of God, which must be our daily spiritual nourishment.
- Mass Readings. You might ask: what Biblical passages should I read? The response: The Readings in Holy Mass. This can be done by using a Missal with these readings or a handy Magnificat—which has the readings for every month.
- Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Another inspiring prayer is the Chaplet of Divine Mercy that can be prayed at any time. Of course the Mercy Hour is 3:00 p.m. However, this short but beautiful prayer can be prayed at any time and in any place, alone or with a group.“For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
- The Holy Rosary. We are commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima. She appeared six times to the little shepherd children—Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta. She revealed her name as Our Lady of the Rosary. At every apparition she exhorted the children, as well as the world at large, to pray the Rosary. Of prime importance in the Season of Lent is to pray the Sorrowful mysteries, in which we contemplate the Passion of Jesus though the eyes and sorrowful Heart of Mary.
- Spiritual Retreat. In Lent, it would be an excellent idea to set aside some time to make a spiritual retreat—that is to say a longer, prolonged time of prayer. Eight days, or three days, or two days, or if not possible, a one-day retreat. Choose whichever might be possible. This is a sure remedy to recharge your spiritual battery!
- Spontaneous Prayer of the Heart. Jesus said: “It is necessary to pray always without giving up.” (Lk. 18:10) Following this lead, in Lent we should strive to live in the Presence of the Lord and to pray as often as we possibly can. During the course of the day we should lift up our mind and our heart to God. Actually, this is the definition of prayer that we find in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2559 CCC): “Prayer is the lifting up of the mind and heart to God.” (St. John Damascene) God is present in all times and places, and we can connect with Him in prayer whenever we want! He waits earnestly for us, but respects our freedom. Let us freely choose to talk to Jesus our Best Friend often, and have Him always at our side as our traveling companion on the highway of life that leads to eternal life.
- Holy Mass. By far the greatest prayer is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Therefore, of all the proposals that we could possibly make, assistance at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the worthy reception of Holy Communion are by far the greatest actions we can do! Holy Mass indeed is Opus Dei—the true and unique work of God Himself who longs to come into us as the Divine Guest of our soul! Let us invite Him into our soul this Lent!
Fourth, The Sacrament of Confession
Indeed, one of the primary purposes of Lent is to arrive at a true conversion of heart. We cannot do this by our own human efforts. We desperately need the help of divine grace. Sick we entered the world and sick we leave the world. That is to say, as a result of Original Sin we are all spiritually sick and wounded, and even more so when we commit actual sin.
Therefore, the most efficacious tool or means to really arrive at conversion of mind, heart, soul, and our total being is through the Sacrament of Confession. Our intention, however, should be this: to strive to prepare ourselves to make the best, and I say BEST, Sacramental Confession in our entire life. This of course means an excellent preparation, a sincere desire to change and give up our sins and sinful patterns so as to arrive at a firm purpose of amendment, and a desire to really love God fully and totally as the greatest Center and Meaning of our existence! Saint Ignatius calls this our Principle and Foundation. Resolve to overcome any worries or fears about going to Confession and just trust in the Infinite Mercy of God.
Fifth, The Passion of the Christ
What could be highly advantageous for us, especially at the start of Lent, would be to view the film The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson. However, this masterpiece, among all films, should be viewed not as a Hollywood Oscar winner, but rather as an Ignatian contemplation. In other words, try to view the film alone or with others, and see it as if it were a true prayer. Beg for the grace to have some of the scenes engraved in your memory so that you can elicit them during your prayer period and relish them.
We should use all the modern means of technology and progress to foster and enhance our own spiritual life. I honestly believe that if Saint Ignatius were alive today, he would strongly exhort his followers to view films like “The Passion of the Christ” as an excellent primer to enter into the profound depths of the contemplative life. Indeed, Ignatius encourages us, with the use of our memory and imagination, to construct the composition of place—to see, to hear, and to imagine what it must have been like in the life of Jesus, so that we can get to know Him better, love Him more ardently, and follow Him more closely.
We hope and pray that these five points will be of great service and use, so that you can enter into the holy Season of Lent with a generous and open heart to receive the abundant graces that God has in store for you. Never forget: Jesus in His Sorrowful Passion suffered the most painful and excruciating torments for you and the eternal salvation of your soul. How much Gods really does love you and desire your eternal happiness! May Lent be a stepping stone for you, so that you can arrive at your final goal – HEAVEN!
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