A Guide to the 40 days of Lent
It took forty days for sinfulness to drown in the Flood.
It took forty years for the Israelites to reach the Promised Land.
It took forty days for Moses to come down off the mountain with the Ten commandments.
The prophet Elijah fasted for forty days before God allowed him to set eyes on sacred Mount Horeb.
Jesus was presented in the Temple forty days after he was born.
Jesus fasted and prayed for forty days before he began his saving work.
And now it’s our turn…
Lent is the time when we take our forty days, set apart from our ordinary lives, to fast, to pray, to share. But remember, Lent is forty days of struggle, not forty days of perfection, as we seek to find the right path in the desert of our lives that will bring us into the presence of God and life unending!
So where do we begin?
Honestly, we begin with ourselves. We begin by looking into the mirror and asking ourselves:
What is it that is keeping me from being the person that God wants me to be?
Now, that could be many things, like lifestyle choices or food or alcohol or our attitude or how we spend our time or our money
or how we choose to treat people. What is one main thing that honestly gets in the way of you and God? So, if you had to name something… what would it be?
This, then is your work for Lent. This is what you need to fast from. This is what you need to struggle with. To find better ways to deal with. The real goal is to cast this out of your life completely, but, for at least 40 days, we are called to struggle… to change… to grow in the knowledge & love of God.
“Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. If we have not all three together, we have nothing!”
St. Peter Chrysologus, (Fifth century)
Then, at the center of every Lent: we fast and give and we pray.
We fast to find out what it is that we are truly hungry for. While we know in Faith, that what we really want is God, so often we try to satisfy our hunger with other things. In Lent we try to focus on the things that truly mean life for us and fast from all else. For Catholics, only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are named as fast days that we all do together. (One full meal with two smaller meals as needed.) On Wednesdays and Fridays, many Catholics try to fast more intentionally. Plus, on Fridays we abstain from meat in all it’s forms. Of course, we must always be conscious of our personal health and nutritional needs.
We fast from other things than food. Usually, each person picks something personal to fast from: something that is getting in the way of a healthy response to God, whatever that might be. Then for 40 days we fast from that as well. Some examples are: alcohol, smoking, anger, shopping, impatience, TV or video games, etc. s resources, generates less waste and brings silence &restraint to our busy lives.
We fast so that our hunger may be one for justice.
Our giving flows out of our fasting. It is one way we make use of the time, energy, food and money that our fasting saves us. Remember, we fast not for ourselves but for God. This is why we give others the fruit of our fasting so that all may share in God’s goodness which is working through us, with us and in us.
In a way, almsgiving is really fasting from being un-generous. Generosity is not simply giving away our excess clothes or even writing a “generous” check to help those in need. Generosity is an attitude of Stewardship. It is a sense that no matter how much I have, all that I have been given is a gift from God, and has been given to me to be shared. A spirit of self-less giving means that one of my needs is to share what I have with others.
Lent is a wonderful time to practice self-less giving, because it does take some practice until we are good at it. One fun idea is to try to give away 40 “things” during the forty days of Lent. Everyday find something new you can live without. Or give something that you know someone else can use. This can include your time and talents too! This kind of giving also joins us with Jesus, who gave himself completely for us.
May our giving be generous & from the heart.
Weaving throughout our fasting & our giving is Lenten prayer. Lent is a time for silence so that we can really hear what God is trying to say to us. “Be Still and Know that I am God,” says Psalm 46:10.
Lent is a time to start new patterns of prayer, to begin or to deepen our prayer. We can start by simply pausing when we get up and taking a slow, deep breath, and recalling what we have to do this day… asking for the grace to do it well or to offer the coming day to God as gift. Turn the radio off in the car during your commute and talk to God (This works best if you are alone.) End your day with the Examen. When you lie in bed at night place yourself in the presence of God. Think back over the day searching for those times when you needed God the most. Think of those times when God needed your help the most. Finally, give thanks for all the blessings you received this day.
Other ways to deepen our prayer include: attending daily Mass, reading the daily Scripture readings: www.usccb.org/nab. Start a journal of Lenten experiences, thoughts, feelings & insights. Spend a moment each day jotting down the blessings that fill your day. Make each page a thank you to God.
But at the center of every prayer we make there really is only one prayer we pray: That Your Will be done.