As the season of Lent draws near, we will inevitably get asked the question, “So what are you doing for Lent this year?” Before we answer that question, we should take a moment to review what Lent is. Lent is a season of penance that last approximately 40 days. It begins on Ash Wednesday (February 14th in 2018) and ends on Holy Thursday (March 29th in 2018) and includes all days except Sundays. Taking a cue from Jesus, who spent 40 days fasting in the desert, this period is set aside by the church to deepen our spiritual lives through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
This time is also a call to join the spiritual battle that surrounds each person, every day. Huh? People who try to grow closer to Jesus are often tempted – either by their own nature or by the fallen angels. The heart of spiritual combat is to overcome these temptations to sin because giving up on trying to grow your relationship with the Lord is not a viable option if heaven is your goal.
As the founder of the Order of Lepanto, not only do I look for inspiration from the saints but also from the great sword masters of the Medieval and Renaissance periods in my efforts to win this spiritual battle. One of my favorite quotes is from the teachings of Master Johannes Liechtenauer — “this is the basic tenet of swordsmanship: that a man is always in motion and never at rest.” This is strikingly applicable in both martial arts and the faith life – we must always be in motion, growing ever closer to God.
How to approach Lent?
Like any good general in a battle, you need to approach Lent with a plan. The better the plan is, the more likely you are to be successful.
While Lent is a penitential season, and as such we need to practice penance, we can (and should) take time to introduce new things that will have a positive impact on our overall faith life. My approach is to start with identifying my biggest current spiritual challenge, which changes from year to year, and to discern which elements of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving would work the best to address it. Then, as a step two, I identify ways for a particular element to feed and enhance the others. For example, one might choose to fast from television for a couple of nights per week and to skip the expensive coffees by brewing some at home instead. With that fast as a start, you can create a short prayer to say every time you are tempted to watch TV or to buy a Mocha Latte. You might then take the time freed up by not watching TV to spend time with your spouse, to engage in spiritual reading, or to say a rosary. Finally, you can use the money saved from skipping the $5 coffees to support your favorite ministry, pro-life group, or apostolate like the Order of Lepanto. In that way, you can extend a practice in one area to bear fruit across all of them.
However, like any battle, once you are engaged your opponent does unexpected things. (If you doubt this, come see a sparring match sometime!) In that case, you need to regroup. It’s okay to take a step back once you realize that you fell short in a particular instance. Ask God to help you figure out what went wrong, then use your intellect to review what happened and strategize ways to avoid that pitfall in the future. The most important step at this point is to not to lose heart and give up. A lesson from the sword fighting aspect of the apostolate: I have seen many people get flustered or dejected when they lose the first point (or 2) to their opponent. They begin to believe that they cannot win and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The really good sword fighters can shake off losing that point and come back strong.
With all of that in mind, we are now ready to address our original question, “What are you doing for Lent?” If you are a member of the Order of Lepanto or thinking about becoming one, I recommend reading The Spiritual Combat by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli this Lent, if you have not already done so. I also recommend spending time practicing basic swordsmanship — master guards, master cuts, stance transitions, and flourishing. For general fitness and prayer time, you might consider a pushup rosary – 1-5 pushups after each Hail Mary and 5-10 sit-ups per Our Father.
Here are some other suggestions for everyone:
|Additional Prayer time by yourself, with your spouse, or with your family
|Spiritual reading by yourself, with your spouse, or with your family
|Individual or family catechetical study
|Marriage study (even if you are single and only thinking about marriage)
|Dedicate more time to your favorite apostolate or ministry
|Attend a daily Mass
|Stations of the Cross every Friday
|Fast from social media
|Go to confession
|Chaplet of Divine Mercy
|Fast from favorite food or drink
|Fast from secular TV, radio, etc.
|Add Catholic media – radio, TV to your regular schedule
|Fast from eating out
|Make plans to attend a conference or retreat
|Pray the Angelus every day
|Make daily prayer a priority
|Fast on all Fridays in Lent
|Forgive someone who hurt you in the past
|Reunite with extended family
|Be intentional about the time you spend with your immediate family
|Increase exercise (or practice those sword skills!)
Remember, though, to find an area of spiritual weakness and then find a spiritual practice to address it. A good battle plan will lead to better results!