Through the Lenten season, God calls us to enter more deeply into prayer and penance. Even though it lasts for forty days, it’s only too common for us to say afterward, “that went by so fast,” or ask, “where did the time go?” This year can be different if we make some firm decisions to use the gift of these forty days well. God wants to change our lives this Lent, but this will require a more serious response and commitment from us.
Here are seven tips from Exodus, known for its 90 days of prayer, asceticism, and fraternity, for making the most of Lent.
1. Do something every day.
It will be hard to make progress if we don’t take on a consistent practice each day during Lent. If you do something only once a week or irregularly, it won’t form a lasting habit or do much to help you make progress in the spiritual life, experiencing conversion through prayer and sacrifice.
2. Make sure it pushes you.
Giving up chocolate won’t do much to change your life. Rather, giving up TV, music, alcohol, taking cold showers, regularly volunteering to serve others, doing a holy hour–these are the kinds of difficult practices that push us out of our comfort zone and help us to grow during Lent. We should aim at conversion of heart and our sacrifices should reflect this turn away from the world and to God, freeing up time and energy to be directed toward him.
3. Don’t forget regular fasting.
Lent arose as a forty-day fast, with Catholics giving up all meat and animal products throughout the season and fasting every day except Sundays. Although there are many other important practices, Lent should involve some kind of change in your eating habits. Consider eating less each day, giving up meat more than once a week, abstaining from alcohol, or fasting a few days a week.
4. Prayer is essential.
Nothing we do will bear true spiritual fruit without prayer. Giving things up focuses on our own efforts, while Lent aims at union with God. We need to do our part, but, even more so, we need to turn to God for help. Make sure you are increasing your prayer time each day during Lent. Consider making a daily holy hour (or at least half an hour), to sit with God in silence, allowing him to speak to you and change you from within.
5. Go to Mass more often.
A great way to pray more each day is to go to Mass at least one additional day each week. This will help us to unite our prayer and penance to Christ, spending time with him in the desert as we fight the battle of Lent. At Mass, we will encounter Christ in his tangible presence, who can dwell within us, making us his tabernacle in the world.
6. Pick a spiritual book to read.
We need guidance in our daily Lenten prayer. St. Benedict, the father of monks, directed everyone in the monastery to choose a spiritual book to read straight through during Lent. It’s a good idea for all of us as well, because a good book can guide our Lenten journey. Two great classics are Thomas a Kempis’s Imitation of Christ and St. Francis de Sales’s Introduction to the Devout Life. This will help us to meditate during our daily holy hour, praying through the mysteries of the faith.
7. Do something to help others.
The pillars of Lenten spiritual growth are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We should not forget the third one, because, if we come closer to God, he will call us to help others during this holy season. To love God, we must also love our neighbor, which expresses and actualizes this love. Consider doing something to help the poor as an expression of almsgiving, offering food, financial gifts, and time to help those in need.
This Lent can be different. Rather than flying by, without making much of an impact, we can lean into serious prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to turn our hearts to God. Jesus is the one who frees us from sin and our attachments, offering us the opportunity to enter more deeply into his divine life. Men have the opportunity to follow along the Book of Joshua and Matthew through Exodus’s Lenten exercise to enter more deeply into Jesus’s great Exodus of his Passion and Death. Regardless, we should follow in the footsteps of Jesus this Lent in giving ourselves completely to the Father in love.