There is a certain spring in our steps these days. Daylight hours
are growing longer and the breezes are actually warm. Even though it’s
February, and years past have yielded significant snow during this stretch of
time, the meteorological calendar seems to be marching on. So, with the great
outdoors in rhythm, it is easy to embrace the pre-Lenten season. Soon, purple
will drape the altar and penance will be upon us. These are the days we seize
to prepare for a fruitful Lent — those Lenten days that warm and then flower
into a glorious Easter.
Soon, the question posed will be, “What are you doing for Lent?”
And, of course, the doing is important: extra prayers, frequent fasting,
almsgiving, works of mercy. The point though, of all we are doing, is to
promote interior change. At the end of Lent, we want to be someone
different. As we prepare for Lent, let’s begin with “being” over doing. Let’s
look at who we are and how we think and pray and then build a fruitful Lenten
practice of things to do from there.
Most of us want to quiet ourselves interiorly during Lent, to be
more prayerful, more open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Lent is a good
time for listening. It is not an entirely contemplative period, though.
Usually, we also feel prompted to give more, to reach out, recognize, and meet
the needs of others. A third component of Lent — together with listening and
giving — is forgiving. Christ reminds us that we will be forgiven as we
forgive. During a season that draws attention to our sins and begs us to repent
and confess, we are also reminded to forgive and forgive again.
To prepare for the listening of Lent, ask God how He would have
you hear His voice. Is there a particular spiritual reading He wants you to
absorb this year? Where will you read, and when? Look at both your calendar and
the places in your home. Can you create a place for Him, both in time and
space? We have to be still and quiet before God in order to hear Him. Before
Lent begins, carve out where and when your still and quiet time will be. In
that sacred space, place a book for spiritual reading and paper and pencil to
record your thoughts and prayers.
Ask yourself who you can serve this year. God calls each of us
differently. Who are the people He has put in your path in order for you to
reach them with His love? I have nine children, and living in such close
relationship with so many people has shown me how extraordinarily diverse our
gifts are. God gives different graces to each of us and He blesses us each with
different abilities and callings. Before Lent begins, take an honest look at
your gifts and listen to His call in light of them. What are you uniquely
equipped to do for the Kingdom in the next 40 days?
Finally, give some pre-Lenten thought to forgiveness. The
liturgies of Lent and our spiritual reading will call us to bring to mind our
sins, to speak them aloud, and to ask for absolution. Looking closely at sin
also often has another effect. We are reminded of the times and ways that other
people have hurt us. Sometimes, those injuries have been followed by apologies;
sometimes they have not. With Lent comes the opportunity to forgive
transgressions against us. The space between remembering the hurt and forgiving
it can be a painful one, but the Lord tells us that this process is necessary. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have
anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you
your trespasses” (Mk 11:25). We prepare for Lent, by asking forgiveness of the
people we have hurt, and by forgiving them in kind, even the ones who haven’t
asked for forgiveness.
Lent is a long season. We have
time to amend our ways, to change our lives, to truly turn away from sin and be
faithful to the Gospel. Spend a bit of time in this week before it begins to
lay the foundation of a most fruitful Lent.
Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance
writer from Northern Virginia.