by Father Mark Goldasich
Once upon a time, there was a young book salesman who was assigned to a rural area. Seeing a farmer seated in a rocking chair on his front porch, the young man approached with all the zeal of a newly trained salesman.
“Good afternoon, sir,” said the salesman. “I have here a book that will tell you how to farm 10 times better than you’re doing now.”
The farmer closed his eyes and continued to rock. After a few moments, he stopped, looked over at the young man and said, “Son, I don’t need your book. I already know how to farm 10 times better than I’m doing now. I just don’t wanna!” (Adapted from “Stories and Parables for Preachers and Teachers,” by Paul J. Wharton.)
I suspect there’s some of that farmer in many of us, especially when it comes to our spiritual life. We know that we’re called to grow in our faith and we’re aware of what it takes to do that. But often, we just “don’t wanna.” We get spiritually lazy.
By now, we’ve probably shelved most of our New Year’s resolutions and slipped back into our old patterns of behavior. The season of Lent is our annual wakeup call, a time to climb out of our fa- miliar ruts and work on what will make us holier people. If you’re like me, though, without a personal trainer — a guide — Lent will just slide by. We’ll “give up” something and that will be about it. How about making this
Lent different? Although Ash Wednesday doesn’t roll around until Feb. 18, now is the time to prepare. My personal trainer this year is Marcellino D’Ambrosio. He’s demanding, but practical. I recommend that you take his class. Now, you don’t have to worry about it filling up or having to drive miles and miles to get there. His “class” is actually a book, entitled “40 Days, 40 Ways: A New Look at Lent” (Cincinnati: Servant Books, 2014; 127 pgs.; $14.99).
The author calls us beyond just “giving up” something for Lent. He writes: “In this book I have collected forty ways to make these forty days a life-changing experience. My aim is to put into your hands a practical manual with new tips, collected from master trainers, to help you burn fat, build spiritual muscle, and win this most critical competition.”
His methodology makes perfect sense: Spend time, ideally before Lent starts, browsing the table of contents in the book. Then, choose one to three ideas “that jump off the page and seem to be, for you, the most important and most doable. Read the specific pages that further explain these particular tips and commit to doing these things faithfully throughout the Lenten season.”
Each day of Lent, D’Ambrosio also suggests reading that particular day’s tip and its reflection, usually just two to three pages long. Do the tip for the day if you can, but keep your focus mainly on those one to three major ideas. This will keep you from being overwhelmed and maybe just “giving up” on Lent.
Some of his suggestions are:
• Cut your media consumption to open up time for prayer, service and personal relationship with others. Use at least some of your drive time to listen to Catholic radio, talks or audiobooks instead of news, sports and music.
• Spend the first available 10 minutes each day thanking God for everything you are grateful for . . . before you ask for anything.
• Instead of secular videos for weekend entertainment, try some videos that will enrich your spiritual life.
• Forgive those who have offended you or your loved ones. Pray for the person who has been the most hurtful or annoying.
• Read or listen to a biography of a saint.
• Before work, chores or study, make a conscious decision to offer up whatever you are doing in love of God and in loving intercession for some person or special need.
• Find out what the Sign of the Cross really means, and begin making it less mechan- ical, more thoughtful, several times per day.
D’Ambrosio also includes a few resources in the back of his book for Lenten books, DVDs, websites, etc. All in all, I believe that people will find something new here to reinvigorate their keeping of Lent.
Do more than just attend Mass on Ash Wednesday or give up chocolate. By prepar- ing for Lent beforehand, it should be easy to move this year from “I don’t wanna” to “I’m sure gonna.”