Our world is noisy. Even when we are sitting in silence in front our computers (as I am doing right now), it is still noisy. I don’t mean the keys on the keyboard or the gentle hum of the fan. I mean the pictures, articles, debates, violence, etc. It is never ending. It is a distraction and one of the great Satanic ploys of our age. I struggle with it just as much as the next person. I find that most days I can’t even sit and wait in my car without pulling out my cell phone to check email, the news, or social media. Technology is not evil, but our addiction to it can be. It can keep us from prayer and from our families. Temperance in all things and that includes our cell phones.
Lent is a time of quiet and penance. We are called to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. All three of these point to a form of quiet. Prayer, while words may be used, should draw us into silence. Fasting is our quiet self-denial as we overcome ourselves and offer a sacrifice to Christ. Almsgiving is our silent “yes” to the poor. It is when we take from our abundance and freely give to another. So here are a few of my suggestions to help you and me draw into the silence of Lent.
The first thing we have to do is pray. I struggle with this one just as much as the next person. I try to start every day with Lauds. This morning that didn’t happen. So the first thing we have to do is pray (myself included). It doesn’t have to be eloquent and no we are probably not going to fall into contemplative prayer, but we need to just do it.
I find that my brain is always racing a million miles a minute with many thoughts, most of them are useless. So I have found that listening to sacred music helps draw me into a prayerful countenance. In Lent we tend to pray with a focus on Good Friday. We pray the Stations of the Cross on Fridays. The hymn we sing called the Stabat Mater, is a very prayerful and beautiful hymn. Here is an example you can use for your prayer time:
Pange Lingua by St. Thomas Aquinas is chanted every year on Holy Thursday. It brings me to tears and gives me chills every time I hear it.
I also love this joyful hymn from BlackFriars media:
Another form of stimulation that I use is sacred art. I have sacred art all over my house. A lot of it I just printed off of the internet and taped up along bookshelves or walls. It might help you to pull some pictures of sacred art up on your computer, order a book of sacred art, or print some out. Here are a few of my favorite sacred pieces that are perfect for Lent:
Matthias Grunewald, Crucifixion,
Annibale Carracci, Christ Wearing the Crown of Thorns, Supported by Angels, 1585-87
Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son
These are a few images that can help you begin a period of prayer. I was unable to find the artist for some of the images, so if anyone knows who they are, please share them in the comments. Meditating on a painting or sculpture is a way to be drawn into the invisible realities of eternity. Meditating on Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son can draw us closer into seeking Christ’s love and forgiveness during this Lenten season.
Of course the best guide for prayer is Scripture, so once you are ready to pray, you can’t go wrong with the Bible. The Gospels are a good place to start, or the daily Mass readings. I also mentioned Lauds above, which is from the Liturgy of the Hours. It is a guided prayer of the Psalms and is the prayer of the Church. The greatest prayer of the Church is also the great sacrifice of our Faith and that is the Mass. Daily Mass is a sure way to grow in holiness. I know it is hard with young children or work. I have been waiting for my daughter to get a bit older, but we are going to start going once or twice a week now until we work up to every day. Even if you can’t make Mass, our parishes are open during the day. Bring you child or children and just sit at the Tabernacle. I do this with my daughter.
The most important thing is to just pray each day and to step into silence. Music and art guide me into silence. So you may have to start with noise and work to interior silence. If you struggle with focus, then try using a some form of beauty to draw you in. If music or art don’t work, try going for a walk and focus on God’s creation. As a friend of mine likes to say, “God woos us through beauty”, so find something to marvel at.
Most people associate Lent with fasting. We are asked to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and we are told to give something up as a form of penance. What you decide to give up is up to you. The thing that we all need to keep in mind is that we all struggle with certain sins. In order to make Lent fruitful, we need to give up something that will help us grow in holiness. Examine you life and make sure what you have chosen will be fruitful. This will vary from person to person. Do not compare yourself to your spouse, children, friends, or fellow parishioners. Through prayer, you must discern what you need to work on. Making frequent Confession can also help you to see what you really struggle with. If it has been a while, be sure to get to Confession.
As Christians we should be helping the poor whenever possible, but the Church asks us to make a concerted effort during Lent. As our parish priest suggested, go through your things and then give the excess to charity. Go through clothes, books, DVDs, and other areas of your house that have become cluttered with stuff. Most of us have way too much and can easily give to charity.
Set aside a box where you can place change, cash, or checks throughout the Lenten season that will go to charity. As Christians, we have an obligation to the poor. Lent is the perfect time to remind us of our duty throughout the year. We give out of love for Christ and our neighbor. As Catholics we are in communion with one another and united together. We understand how God has tied each person to the next by his gratuitous love.
These are just a few ideas to help you on your Lenten journey. There are a lot of other blog posts and articles on Lent that you can find. Let’s make this Lent a time when we truly focus on Christ and serving him. In doing so, we will be able to grow deeper in our love of Him and our neighbor. I have also found the more that I focus during Lent, the deeper I am able to enter into the Paschal Mystery during Holy Week. I pray you have a blessed Lent!
What are some suggestions you have for growing in holiness this Lent?