When something as important as Lent is repeated every year, we all become very familiar with it. We try to faithfully observe the requisite penitential practices, and we frequently avail ourselves of the many opportunities provided by our parishes for Lent. But as familiarity grows year over year, so, too, can a sense of complacency that keeps us from fully appreciating the meaning of this season and the opportunity it presents.

This year, in addition to the Stations of the Cross, parish missions or retreats, Penance services and our own Lenten sacrifice, perhaps we might seek out a fresh take on prayer, fasting and almsgiving that will help us to be more mindful of why and for whom we are making this journey.

#1 Do Something ‘Radical’

While the word “radical” may conjure ideas of political extremism and those on the fringe, the primary meaning  is action or change “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.”  Could there be a more perfect pursuit for our Lenten journey?

Radical action is a subjective thing; what is radical for one may not be for another. But for each of us, doing something radical for Lent requires that we step outside of our comfort zone and take action that is a true departure from our normal reality.  And in the doing, we are forever changed.  Some ideas might be:

  • Getting up earlier each morning to attend daily Mass.
  • Become a volunteer in an area hospital, parish or school, etc.
  • Join a weekly Bible study, prayer group, social concerns ministry or church choir.
  • Break a bad habit or make a good habit – not just during Lent, but for a lifetime.
  • Use money set aside for a vacation or new Smartphone and pay off a debt for a needy family. (Consider paying off past-due tuition in your  local Catholic school or buying an item on the school’s wish list.)

#2 Clean Up Your Act

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).”

Lent is a time to put our spiritual house in order.  Here are some ways we can do that:

  • Take advantage of expanded opportunities for Reconciliation
  • Conduct an Examination of Conscience
  • Forgive someone who has wronged you 
  • Ask forgiveness from someone you may have wronged

Find ways to “clean up” other aspects of your life:

  • Commit to “eating clean” or “living clean” in terms of your consumption of goods
  • Clean up your home, your office, your car, etc. as a physical reflection of the spiritual cleanliness you seek.

#3 Practice Kindness

St. Teresa of Calcutta once said: “We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

Each of us are able to lead lives of kindness, treating everyone we meet in a way that honors the dignity they have as children of God. There are limitless ways you can practice kindness. Here are but a few:

  • Cook an unexpected meal for a friend or family member.
  • Look for encouraging or affirming things to say to others, especially on social media.
  • Write a letter, email, text or call someone who is alone.
  • Buy the person behind you in line a cup of coffee.
  • Drive courteously.

#4 Deny, Deny, Deny

He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. (Mk. 8: 34).

Embrace a spirit of self-denial in every aspect of your life.

  • Give to charity without telling anyone.
  • Do not seek credit for good work that you’ve done. If someone gives you credit, share it with others
  • Decline the extras or niceties – Pass up the delicious dessert, the wine with dinner, the binge-watching of your favorite shows. Live more        simply.
  • Deny spending money on things you don’t need – new clothes or shoes, new items for the house, going out for dinner every week, etc.
  • Refuse to indulge in gossip or the drama that can beset our interpersonal relations. 
  • Avoid criticism of others, and step away from arguments (even when you think you are right).

#5 Make Your Whole Life a Prayer

From the moment we wake in the morning to the one when we lay our heads down at night – and every moment in between – we all can strive to dedicate our lives to prayer. When we seek out opportunities for prayer in our lives, we are open to special moments of grace. These might include:

  • Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude – Each morning, give thanks to God for the gift of a new day, and gratefully take stock at the
    end of the day for all the blessings you received.
  • Have a long commute to work? Spend hours working around the house? Use that time to listen to a faith-based podcast, audio book or pray the Rosary.
  • Visit a cemetery and pray over the graves of family, friends and those you don’t know.
  • When you pass an accident on the road, or learn  of someone who is battling serious illness or difficulty, stop and pray for all involved.  Include your family in this practice whenever possible.

#6 Be One with the Poor

“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you... thirsty and give you drink (Mt 25:31-40).”

Maybe harder than acting to help those in need is actually seeing, seeing with our hearts, so that our giving can be more fully from a place of love.

  • Give when and what you can without judgment.
  • Look people in the eye, with respect, leaving no doubt that they are worthy of you.
  • Say yes first when someone asks if you can help, instead of first asking “how?” or “What?”
  • Step out of your comfort zone when you know you can help.
  • Step up. Offer your time to those in need. Be a mentor. Teach English as a Second Language. Help with resume and professional development.

#7 Sharing the Story

“Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16).”

At first, this suggestion might seem like a contradiction of what is expressed in #4.  However, when conveyed in a spirit of humility, the story of what you are doing for Lent and how it is changing you can be a powerful way to inspire, and even evangelize, others.  Consider sharing your plans by posting a message or video on social media and inviting others to join you.  Perhaps you might also ask for prayers to successfully complete your Lenten challenge.

Here are some other ways that you can share the story of Christ’s love with others:

  • Go as a family each week to Stations of the Cross Invite a friend or family member to come to Mass with you.When something as important as Lent is repeated every year, we all become very familiar with it. 
  • Welcome newcomers to Sunday Mass and be sure to encourage those who are preparing to enter the Church from your community.
  • Read stories about faith to your children or grandchildren.