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See Lent as a
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placeholder February 17, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 4   •   Oakland, CA
See Lent as a 40-day annual retreat to grow with God

Recently I was looking up the date of Ash Wednesday this year — March 5 — and it was hard to believe that Lent will be here in no time.

The season of Lent is a very important time for Catholic Christians. Every year our Church, in her wisdom, gives us 40 days as an annual retreat to reflect on our spiritual lives and our relationship with God. Lent is a yearly opportunity to slow down and take stock of how we are living our Baptismal commitment; and how well our actions are in line with the gospel message of Jesus.

Our Catholic tradition suggests that we use the disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to renew our spiritual lives during Lent, actually not just in Lent but throughout our lives.

Take prayer. We might take a look at how much quality time we give the Lord. Maybe our prayer life is limited to Mass on Sunday and a quick prayer before meals, when we remember. Perhaps we pray only when we need a favor like asking God to heal a loved one or that one of our children becomes a priest or religious. Let this Lent be different.

No relationship can deepen and grow unless we are willing to listen and share ourselves with the other person.

God is no exception. During Lent, if you don't already, set aside at least 15 minutes of your time each day to be with God. Go to a quiet place, if you can find one, slow down and let God love you. Read and reflect upon some scripture each day and get to know the one who loves you unconditionally and who has given you all you have. I suggest using the Mass readings for each day and reflect on what God is saying to you. In fact, it would be good to try to go to Mass more than just on Sunday if you can.

Now what about fasting? The first thing most of us think when it comes to fasting is to give up some kind of food, like candy or ice cream. Abstaining from food is a way to fast, but there are other, and sometimes more helpful, ways. It depends on what type of fasting would best benefit our spiritual lives, not just our waistlines. Maybe it would be more beneficial for you to fast from gossip or negative words about others, or perhaps you could try to talk less and become a better listener, especially to people who could use your attention. It can be a real discipline to stop and focus on the other person and really hear what he or she is saying especially when we are in a hurry.

The third traditional Lenten discipline is to give alms. Many people think of almsgiving as giving money to some charitable cause. That is part of it, but it is much easier to give our loose change to the needy than give the precious gifts of our time and talents to others. Lent calls us to give of ourselves, not just our financial and material resources. You might think about with whom you could spend more quality time. There might be a person or a group that could benefit from your gifts and talents.

Besides our time, another thing one may be called to give during Lent is forgiveness and reconciliation. You might ask yourself who in your life, whether living or dead, do you need to forgive for some hurt done to you. Or from whom do you need to ask forgiveness? I think that is one very important way to give alms and a sacrifice pleasing to our God. Reconciliation is not easy, but it brings a lot of peace to our hearts and homes.

During this Lent let us try to slow down, get to know God better and be more reflective and conscious of the needs of others. Don't let this opportunity to deepen your spiritual life slip by you. Material things and other concerns may pass away, but our relationship with God is forever. Get to know and serve God better during these days when we prepare for Easter. Don't let this be just another 40 days of the year.

(Holy Cross Sister Margie Lavonis works in communications for her religious community in Notre Dame, Ind.)

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