February 14, 2017

A "Little Less" Lent

I arrived at Mass this Sunday to discover it was Septuagesima Sunday.  What’s that you ask?  It’s the third Sunday prior to Lent, and it marks the beginning of two and a half weeks of preparation for Lent itself.  Septuagesima means seventy – for the approximately seventy days until Easter.
Next Sunday will be Sexagesima (60) Sunday and the final Sunday before Ash Wednesday will be Quinquagesima (50) Sunday.  As our pastor explained, it’s like the bells that toll prior to the start of Mass to call the folks from their worldly duties to turn their minds and hearts to those of heaven.  Fifteen minutes before, then ten, then five.  Hurry!  Get ready!  It’s almost time!
The Christian year, the Christian’s life and the history of God’s chosen people tell the same story in circles of repetition and remembrance.  Printed in our worship aid, it is laid out like this:
“The number seventy corresponds symbolically to the number of years the people of Israel spent in Babylonian exile prior to arriving back in Jerusalem, paralleling for us as Christians our time spent on earth prior to our final goal – heaven.  The number for forty, Quadragesima, is the name given to the first Sunday of Lent and the season itself, connecting the forty days our Lord spent in prayer, fasting and penance to our journey of forty days (excluding Sundays) through the season of Lent.”


Hurry!  Get ready!  It's almost time!
Does the imminent approach of Lent make fill you with trepidation? Are you wondering what to do to make it a good one?
People always talk about giving up something for Lent.  It is often chocolate or sweets.  Sometimes it is a bad habit or small sin.  Others suggest not giving up something, but instead, taking on something.  It could be an extra devotion, daily Mass or a good deed done daily.
Traditionally, what is prescribed during Lent is prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Besides obligatory fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the details are left up to the individual. 
I offer you another way to look at Lent.  Rather than giving up or doing a thing, why not think of Lent as going to the gym for your soul?  Get pumped up this Lent!  What will make your soul stronger for the Big Event?  What is the spiritual exercise that will help you grow in the virtue in which you’re a bit of a weakling?  Do that a little more.
But don't just rush in and expect to lift that heavy weight.  If you haven't been able to succeed in that virtue before, what makes you think you'll conquer it simply because it's Lent and you've had ashes rubbed on your forehead?  Of course there’s extra grace in Lent, but recognize your weakness and begin from where you are. Just add one pound to what you’re already lifting.  As you grow stronger, add another.
Enter into the season.  Let your behavior reflect that some activities are more fitting than others during this time.  Lent is a season to observe.  Observe the cross.  Observe the mercy.  Observe peacefulness.
Begin by recognizing your own littleness and need of mercy.  Do you have a hard time completely giving up things?  Do a little less.  A little less convenience. A little less pleasure.  A little less fun.  A little less self.  And a little more.  A little more prayer. A little more almsgiving.  A little more spiritual reading.  A little more love.
There are many ways – besides giving up a thing – that you can observe a “little less” Lent and a “little more” Lent.  I can think of many and I’ll bet you can think of even more that will help strengthen your will, deepen your soul and make your heart grow in love.
Here are some to get you started!
Turn down your thermostat a couple of degrees.  Turn off your car radio on one trip.  Drive the speed limit.  If you do have treats, eat a little less than you would like.  Get 10% more done diligently at work, school, or home.  Give generously when you give.  Do that one job that your spouse likes done, but you hate to do.  Get all the laundry folded by the end of the week.  Leave the closest parking space for someone else.  Say something nice about that person instead of something mean.  Go to Mass one more time during the week.  Use a dull tea cup instead of the pretty one.  Pray an extra decade of the Rosary.  Put that thing away rather than just setting it down there.  Wash the floor for a change.  Use less sugar in your coffee if you can’t give it up entirely.  Buy Fair Trade chocolate, coffee, tea, sugar or spices next time (it costs a little more and your extra sacrifice helps respect the dignity of the people at the other end of the production, so it’s a little way to give alms!).  When you think of someone, make it a prayer (whether you like that person or not).  Buy a package of new socks and underwear to donate along with your old stuff.  Oh, and go to confession!
One more thing: Smile.
Do you know what Mother Teresa said about smiling?  “Smile at each other. Smile at your wife, smile at your husband, smile at your children, smile at each other - it doesn't matter who it is - and that will help to grow up in greater love for each other."  
You don’t have to be a spiritual heavy weight to benefit from Lenten practices.  Begin now, during these weeks before Lent, to prepare yourself to get into condition.  As the church bells ring, calling you to a closer union with Our Lord, turn your mind to the things that can strengthen your love for Him in little ways each day.

This Lent, try doing a little more and a little less.

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