My kids already know what I’m going to say. I can just picture them mouthing the words as I speak them, “Don’t forget to think about what you’re going to do for Lent, and make sure you do something positive, too.”
There, I said it. And, I meant it. Of course I advocate the Church’s requirements for the observance of Lent: prayer, penance, and almsgiving. But, I’m convinced that’s never enough, at least for most of us. While necessary for our spiritual cleansing, those three exercises tend to have a negative connotation. In my humble opinion, that gives a negative feel to this liturgical season. Yes, it’s a time for repentance. Yet, it’s also a time for reaching out for God’s love and working with all our might to become better persons, better Christians. We focus on what to “give up” during Lent or find ways to makes things harder on ourselves so that we can become more Christlike and purge our souls of its selfishness. We want to suffer long with our Lord, for our own sake and for the sake of the Church. That’s important.
However, Jesus also is loving and joyful. He taught his disciples what they should not do, but he also taught them what they should do, and that includes doing positive things the effect the spiritual growth and advancement of ourselves and others. And for that reason, I remind my kids (and myself) every Lent to resolve daily to do at least a couple of positive things that will help them to grow in faith, hope, and charity and to facilitate that growth in others. I urge them to do things that will make themselves better people and make the world around them a better place to live.
With our typical Lenten mindset, it might be tough to think up things to do that are positive, so I’ve compiled a list of possibilities that will get you started. Perhaps you’ll choose a couple of these, or perhaps you’ll come up with even better ones on your own. Either way, I pray that you’ll do something positive daily in addition to the striving prescribed by the Church, and that your Lent is blessed and fruitful!
1. Read Scripture. Even ten minutes a day can lead you to a deepening of faith and a greater understanding of our heritage as the People of God. Not inclined toward Scripture? Well, then. There’s a host of great spiritual reading materials out there; certainly there’s something to suit you. St. John of the Cross or St. Teresa of Avila’s books make fabulous Lenten reading.
2. Resolve to perform one random act of kindness. Hold a door open, let someone get in line first, refrain from cutting off the guy driving like a jerk in the car next to you, or do somebody’s else’s chore for them (and don’t ask for payback).
3. Eat well. Yes, we give up our favorite treats, but…how about deciding to eat the foods that are good for you, even if you don’t like them? Yes, I’m talking veggies here.
4. Enlighten someone’s day. Send an uplifting card, email, or phone a family member, friend, or acquaintance that shows you’re thinking about, and praying for, him/her.
5. Don’t pray more, pray better. For most of us, it’s difficult to add more into our day. How about putting more into the prayer times you’ve already got in place? Light a candle, sit in a more attentive position, or change to a more secluded atmosphere so that you can really be alone and focused on God.
6. Watch TV or movies. Usually we give these things up during Lent. On the flip side, there are hundreds, likely thousands, of educational, inspirational, and spiritual shows and films that aren’t only good for our souls but also for our minds in regard to learning more about our Faith or Church history, for example.
7. Rise and shine. Get up 15 minutes earlier. Even if you’re dull and sleepy-headed, spend the time in God’s presence. Then go a step further and tell him how much you love him.
8. Speaking of love… If you’re like me, a large portion of your prayer times are spent complaining about hardships, struggling over uncertainties, and asking forgiveness for sins committed and protection against committing them again. If we truly loved God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, we wouldn’t be as tempted toward sin, would we? So, maybe it’s a better idea to pray for the grace to love God as you ought to. Here’s a little prayer I made up for myself years and years ago, and which I say at least once daily (even outside of Lent).
Oh, my Jesus. Please grant me the grace to love you more and more every minute – more this minute than the last, more the next minute than this. Amen.
9. Make time for Eucharistic Adoration, Holy Mass, or spiritual Communion. Life gets hectic, and these things can slip past us. Even if it’s for just a few minutes, being in our Lord’s Real Presence will do our souls a tremendous amount of good. Can’t even squeeze that in? How about sending your guardian angel to holy Mass for you? Here’s a prayer I learned long ago, and say frequently, even on days I attend Mass.
Oh, Holy Angel at my side, go to the church for me. Kneel in my place at holy Mass, where I desire to be. At Offeratory in my stead, take all I am and own, and place it as a sacrifice upon the altar Throne. At holy Consecration’s bell, adore with seraph’s love, my Jesus, hidden in the Host, come down from heaven above. Then pray for those I dearly love, and those who cause me grief, that Jesus’ Blood may cleanse all hearts and suffering souls relieve. And when the priest Communion takes, oh, bring my Lord to me. That his sweet heart may rest on mine and I his temple be. Pray that this Sacrifice Divine may mankind’s sins efface, then bring me Jesus’ blessing home, the pledge of every grace. Amen.
10. Do the ordinary things extraordinarily well. Giving yourself more to do can end up in frustration and disappointment, especially if you’re already physically, emotionally, or mentally taxed by life’s hurdles and demands. So much good can be done by doing the things you normally do, but with extraordinary care and love. That in itself can be a most wonderful offering to God!