by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
One-third of the way into this special liturgical season is a good time to evaluate your experience of Lent thus far.
Are you growing closer to Jesus? Are you being liberated from the attachments that enslave you? Are you living your primary vocation as a baptized, confirmed Christian with greater passion, fidelity and joy? Are you living your vocation as a married person, single person, consecrated religious or priest with greater generosity, humility and love?
Did you make Lenten resolutions? Are they proving effective in helping you deepen your relationship with the Lord? Are you becoming more generous in your service and love of others? Are you becoming what Pope Francis calls a missionary disciple — namely, someone who is intentionally bringing the love of Jesus to others and who is eager to share the joy of his Gospel?
If you have not already made any Lenten commitments of prayer, penance and service, it is not too late to do so. If the Lenten resolutions you did make are not sufficiently challenging or are proving impossible to keep, now is the perfect time to make some mid-course corrections.
During Lent, it is good to attempt to stretch ourselves in three areas: prayer, penance and charity. If you are having difficulty developing helpful resolutions, I encourage you to review the corporal and spiritual works of mercy to help stimulate your moral imagination for ways to grow as a disciple of Jesus.
Deepening your relationship with Jesus must involve an enhanced prayer life. It could include attending at least some weekday Masses, initiating or expanding your daily personal prayer time, prayerfully pondering the word of God, meditating on the daily Mass readings or reading reflectively one or more of the Gospels.
On most Sundays for this liturgical year, you will hear the Gospel of St. Mark proclaimed at Mass. This Lent is an ideal time to read and meditate on Mark’s Gospel. I encourage you, especially, to spend time praying over the Passion narrative that we will hear on Palm Sunday.
The spiritual works of mercy include praying for deceased or living family members, friends, fellow parishioners, co-workers or individuals in special need of your prayer. You might wish to choose each day to pray and make sacrifices for a particular family member, friend or co-worker.
Another option might be to pray especially for the so-called Dreamers — who are in legal limbo as Congress attempts to pass legislation that will give them legal standing in the only nation they have ever known.
Lent is also a perfect time to increase your prayers for the deceased. Praying for those who have died reminds one that death is not a complete barrier between this world and the next.
Through your prayers, you can assist and accompany those who are going through a process of purification that will enable them to experience fully all that the Lord has prepared for his saints in his heavenly kingdom.
Lent also is a time to get rid of the idols in your life — things, pleasures and/or relationships that have assumed greater importance for you than God.
In addition to fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstaining from meat every Friday of Lent, it is also helpful to practice some additional forms of asceticism.
Abstaining from favorite foods or beverages throughout Lent or fasting from television, the internet, and/or social media can help you recognize how you have become dependent upon certain pleasures and distractions. It will also free up more time to pray and communicate with family and friends.
Lent is also an opportunity to heighten your awareness of the needs of others, especially the poor. A part of your personal Lenten plan should include special acts of charity for those in need. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy remind us that feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned and comforting the afflicted are ways in which we not only serve others but also honor God.
The single most important action you can do for a grace-filled Lent is to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Every time you make a sincere sacramental confession, you grow in humility. But, more importantly, you are liberated from the debilitating weight of sin.
Some months ago, I remember hearing Jennifer Fulwiler, the former atheist who now hosts a daily show on the Catholic Channel on satellite radio, describe her feelings after going to confession for the very first time. She came out of the confessional feeling unburdened and joyful. Jennifer marveled how this incredible experience is completely free of charge.
Once again this year, our priests have committed to being available for confessions from 6-7 p.m. every Wednesday night during Lent. The closer it gets to Holy Week, the longer confessional lines become at our churches.
I encourage you to receive the sacrament as soon as possible to experience the peace of Our Lord’s healing grace and to prepare yourself to celebrate the victory of Jesus over sin and death.
Finally, I wish to remind you that, in January, I invited you to pray daily to the Holy Spirit, asking him to give every member of the archdiocese a new outpouring of his gifts — wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and wonder. Please pray especially during this Lenten season for the Holy Spirit to come and set our hearts on fire to share the joy of the Gospel with others.
Hopefully, when you come to Easter, you will have found some of your Lenten practices so enriching and life-giving that you will decide to incorporate them into your life throughout the year. Let us pray for each other during the Lenten season, that we may grow in our awareness and experience of God’s love for us and thus be motivated and empowered to be better witnesses of his goodness in the world.