It’s time for my annual Lenten pep talk. I’ve reshaped these same ideas the last few years and presented them differently. This year I’m going to speak as a man to men. Ladies, feel free to draw inspiration. (I’m not exactly leaving the women out, it’s just that this other way of speaking is how I’m presenting these ideas this year.)
Ok, obligatory, cautionary warning! We are talking about a spiritual workout. Just as you need to ease your way into physical exercise so as not to injure yourself. You also need to establish the basics and ease into the routine of spiritual exercise. We are in pre-lent right now, this past Sunday was Sexagesima Sunday which is 60ish days before Easter. Now is the perfect time to establish good form and a foundation for your spiritual exercises before increasing the intensity. You can do some mini fasts on Wednesday and Friday in preparation for a fuller Lenten fast, for example.
Ok, what sort of spiritual practices should we be planning on for Lent? The 3 traditional practices are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. To this we can add spiritual reading as well. Let’s examine these in greater detail.
- Prayer; How can you increase or intensify your daily prayer life? What does it currently look like? Do you pray the Rosary daily? Do you attend or privately pray any of the Divine Office? Do you pray with your family? Are there any obstacles in your prayer life, and what are you able to do about them? Do you go to confession? How often do you examine your conscience? Do you read the bible and spiritual writings? What can you change? Suggestion- audio books/ sermons can be fit in on the go.
- Fasting; Frankly the current fasting practice of most Catholics is embarrassing. Take a look at the fasting regulations from before 1960 (can be seen on the image below) or of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Now taking one’s health conditions into account, challenge yourself! If you are reasonably healthy you can follow the traditional fasting parameters without hurting yourself. It will be hard, you will suffer, but suck it up. Now, there are some who will claim that “people were holier back then we can’t handle these sort of fasts”. I call BS on this. It is true that if you’ve never done the traditional type of fast it’s a bit much to jump entirely into all at once, but at least use it as a goal to work up to. Besides, assuming it were true that people were holier in the past, we have greater not lesser need of difficult penance than they did. Fasting can be done in creative ways as well, leaving cream and sugar out of your coffee or making your showers cold, for example. Take inventory of your life and figure out what you can do in the area of fasting. The one warning I will give is to not bite off too much initially but ease in, if you have a reliable confessor you may want to run it by him. I stress ‘reliable’ many priests are like other men of this age, soft. I would be selective in seeking advice, find a manly holy priest. Father limp-wrist will form you into a limp-wrist.
- Almsgiving; Give to the poor. This should be proportionate to your means, if you are gainfully employed then putting spange in the ‘rice-bowl’ doesn’t cut it. Generally speaking putting pennies in the rice bowl is for children (there are exceptions, the unemployed, elderly on limited income and so on). Give as you have received. This too might hurt a little for some of us. Do not neglect the spiritually poor as well. Offer up Masses, prayers and sacrifices for souls.
- Spiritual Reading; Really it probably belongs with prayer, but let’s break it out a little. I would encourage sound, solid, serious spiritual reading. Not mushy, sentimental stuff like ‘Guideposts’. Please, we have time tested works which are intended to help make us holy. Most, of this stuff is available digitally for free. I would particularly recommend ‘The Spiritual Combat’ by Scupoli. But writings of the dessert fathers and similar classic works are ideal for our purposes.
Ok, that’s pretty much it. Get real with yourself, be honest, stop making excuses. The spiritual life is one of struggle and combat. You will fall down, when that happens get back up. It will be difficult, so man up, and face it head on.