Lent: A retreat opportunity
Over the years I have heard people say that they wish they had the time to make a retreat or find a way to deepen their spirituality. Many yearn to get closer to God. Lent provides this.
Every year our Church gives us 40 days to reflect on our spiritual lives and to examine and deepen our relationships with God. Like a retreat, Lent can provide us with an opportunity to slow down and take stock of how well we are living our baptismal commitment as disciples of Christ.
The Church suggests that we focus on the traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to renew our spiritual lives.
I have found that a good way to examine our prayer is to look at how much quality time we give to developing our friendship with the Lord. Maybe our prayer life is limited to Mass on Sunday and a rote prayer before meals, when we remember. Perhaps we pray mostly when we want or need a favor from God. Let this Lent be different.
No relationship can deepen and grow unless we are willing to listen and share ourselves with the other person. God is no exception. During Lent, if you don’t already, set aside at least 15-20 minutes each day to be with God. Go to a quiet place, slow down and remember that God loves you. Read and reflect upon some Scripture each day and get to know the Lord better. Some find it helpful to use the Mass readings for each day. In fact, it would be good to try to go to Mass more than just on Sunday. Add another day.
The second discipline is fasting. For many of us, the first thing we think about when it comes to fasting is to give up some kind of food, like candy or ice cream. Abstaining from food is definitely a way to fast, but there are other, and sometimes more meaningful, ways. It could be more beneficial to fast from gossip or negative words about others or to leave conversations that engage in negativity or in tearing down someone’s reputation. Another suggestion is to try to talk less and become a better listener, both to God and to people who could use some attention. It can be a real discipline to stop and focus on the other person, to really listen to what he or she says instead of waiting to jump in with what you want to say. We should choose the type of fasting that would best benefit our spiritual lives.
The other traditional Lenten discipline is to give alms. When I was in elementary school we were given mite boxes to save money for a good cause. That is an important part of it, but it is often easier to give our loose change to the poor than to share the precious gifts of our time and talents to those who need them. Lent calls us to give of ourselves, not just our financial and material resources. During Lent we might choose a particular person or cause that could use some of our time. In what ways can we get out of ourselves and think of others?
Besides our time, another thing we may be called to give during Lent is forgiveness. Who are the people in our lives — whether living or dead — that we need to forgive? Or from whom do we need to ask forgiveness? It is not easy to be reconciled with someone we hurt or who hurt us, but it can bring a lot of peace to our hearts.
Hopefully we will take advantage of this annual opportunity to deepen our life of faith. Classes, papers, jobs, committees, projects, spring breaks, etc., will pass away, but our relationship with God is forever. Let us get to know and serve God better during these days as we prepare for Easter. Don’t let this be just another 40 days of the year. Make each day count.