by Ellie Melero
Mardi Gras is one of the best days of the year.
I mean, cakes, savory foods, punches and beads? Talk about turning up on a Tuesday.
But a lot of people tend to party on Fat Tuesday, maybe go to church on Ash Wednesday and then ignore the rest of Lent. That’s not how it’s supposed to go. If anything, Mardi Gras is supposed to be the optional part.
Lent is about repenting for our sins and preparing ourselves for Easter.
So, how do we make the most out of our Lenten season? That’s pretty simple: we pray, we fast and we give alms.
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the three pillars of Lent, but there are lots of ways to do these three things.
There are many different ways to pray, and no one way is inherently better than another.
Parishes, of course, offer lots of opportunities to pray through things like the Stations of the Cross, eucharistic adoration and penance services. And what better time to take advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation than during the season of repentance?
Finally, it’s important to participate in Stations of the Cross and eucharistic adoration to reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice.
But there are also ways you can pray with your family in your own home.
Perhaps you can start a new tradition with your family. You can construct a simple prayer chain, or you can start doing a weekly rosary with a different intention each week.
You can have a quiet reflection time at the beginning or end of meals for everyone to take a moment to pray on their own. Or you can start reading the Bible as a family.
If you have small children, you can buy a children’s Bible with simplified stories that are easier for kids to follow. There are so many different ways to pray; the possibilities are endless.
For a lot of people, what comes to mind when they think of fasting is pretty similar to what comes to mind when you think of dieting: eating and drinking less and being miserable while you do it.
Fasting doesn’t have to be like that. Just like praying, there are lots of different ways to fast.
On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, things are a little different. You’re not supposed to eat meat, and you’re only supposed to eat one regular-sized meal and two small meals. Every Friday during Lent, you’re supposed to refrain from eating meat (but fish is OK).
There are actual guidelines for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but we should be considering fasting every day of Lent.
Lots of people do this by giving something up for Lent: chocolate, the internet, TV, etc. This is a great thing to do, but sometimes it’s hard. I mean, how do you give up the internet for 40 days? So, if you commit to doing this, it’s important to keep your family members accountable and ask them to keep you accountable, too.
The point of fasting is to do it as an act of penance. But sometimes, just giving something up isn’t enough to change a habit. It’s also recommended that you do something along with giving something up.
For example, if you have children, you might suggest to them that they give up fighting with one another for Lent. Tell them that whenever they want to call the other a mean name, instead they should compliment them. That way, they can not only stop a bad habit but start a good one.
Almsgiving is more than just giving money. Giving money to charity is always nice, but the real point of almsgiving is to give of yourself.
You can do this in lots of ways. You can volunteer (as a family or by yourself) at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
If you do any spring cleaning, you can bring any clothes your children have outgrown or toys they no longer play with to a Catholic Charities site and donate them.
You can visit a nursing home and give the residents Easter baskets.
Or, if you’re busy with work, you can set out a couple of hours a week dedicated to just spending time with your family playing games or teaching them about Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. All of these are ways to give of yourself, and the limit is only as big as your imagination.
So, this Lent, take advantage of the countless opportunities that exist to deepen your faith life.
And don’t be afraid to get creative with your prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It might just make this Lenten season one that you and your family will never forget.