Posted by: resparish | February 27, 2013

Three Steps to a Deeper Lenten Spirituality

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…”

-Ecclesiastes 3:1

Lent is the most important time of the year to nurture our inner life.”

Called to Life, Called to Love

-Henri J. M. Nouwen

To retreat means to step back. We are blessed to have among the many riches of our Catholic faith and traditions an entire season that invites us to step back from what we’re doing, take a closer look at how we are living, and to “nurture our inner life.” Lent, our 40 day annual retreat, is time of reflection and spiritual renewal meant to prepare ourselves to celebrate the high point of our year and the omega point of our faith, the mystery of the death and Resurrection of Jesus. As we are reminded by Nouwen, Lent is also a time to tend to the inner death and resurrection that is a continual part of our personal journey. Lent is a kind of spiritual check-up, a time when we gently let go as much as we can of the habits, addictions and pastimes that distract us from a quiet awareness of the presence of God and of the needs of others. Lent is also a time when we make a special effort to find new ways of incorporating spiritual practices into our everyday life that truly feed us and give us new life.

Do you wish your prayer to fly to God? Give it two wings, prayer and almsgiving.”

-Saint Augustine

There are many pathways of the Lenten journey, but at the heart of all are the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, three stepping stones that help transform us into a deeper spiritual maturity. Of course they are always part of what we do as Christians, but during Lent they receive a special focus and emphasis as we intensify our efforts to become a people transformed by life in Christ. Some we share with our faith community such as abstaining from meat and fasting on certain days, gathering together for Friday Stations of the Cross and Soup Suppers, and the Parish Penance Liturgy, and contributing to charities such as Operation Rice Bowl. But when it comes to how we chart our individual pathway, there is no one-size-fits-all map to guide us through this 40 day desert journey. Each year our Lent is different, because each year we are different. We shape our unique personal journey by listening to the Spirit who calls from within and knows our deepest needs.

From the many spiritual role models and writings past and present with which we are blessed to guide us, here are a couple of “nuggets” which might be helpful.

Step 1: Prayer

…Pray always…”

-Luke 18:1

In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.”–Romans 8:26.

Pray as you can, not as you can’t”

-Abbott John Chapman, OSB; 1865 – 1933

Prayer is meant to grow us.”


Joyce Rupp

We need to find our own way to pray. Prayer means many things to people and can take many forms. Prayer can be with words such as our traditional Catholic prayers, or even a simple “Thank you,” or “I love you.”Prayer can be reflecting on a word or passage from Scripture. Prayer can be completely silent, a moment when we create a space within to become aware of the presence of God. However we pray, Jesus tells us we need to follow his example and “pray always.” In our busy lives we don’t usually have time to pray—we make time to pray. Intentionality is one of the watchwords of contemporary culture. Prayer is intentional. It requires attentiveness. We need to have a regular daily practice and routine of prayer, no matter how we choose to pray.

When we pray we are choosing to relate to God. Personal prayer needs to be part of our normal life, not just an afterthought. And yet there are unexpected moments in the day when we find ourselves turning to God—the smile of a child, a beautiful flower, a small kindness from a stranger. These are also moments that remind us of the presence of God. Prayer is about nurturing our relationship with God and finding God in our everyday lives.

Fr. Michael Fish, OSB, Cam, reminds us that prayer is organic. How we pray now is probably different from how we prayed when we were in second grade. Our prayer will change and grow as we change and grow. The Spirit will give us what we need in the moment.

For Reflection: “How do I pray now? How would I like to pray? What steps can I take right now, no matter how small, to pray every day?”

Step 2: Fasting

We fast, not to punish ourselves, but to make room in our souls to fill them with the good things of God. Besides abstaining from meat and limiting how much we eat on certain days, here is some “food” for thought for our Lenten journey:

Fasting and Feasting”

Lent should be more than a time of fasting.

It should also be a joyous season of feasting.

Lent is a time to fast from certain things and to feast on others.

It is a season to turn to God:

Fast from judging others; feast on the goodness in them.

Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on unity of all life.

Fast from apparent darkness; feast on the reality of light.

Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.

Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.

Fast from discontent: feast on gratitude.

Fast from anger; feast on patience.

Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.

Fast from worry; feast on divine order.

Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.

Fast from negatives: feast on affirmatives.

Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.

Fast from hostility; feast on non-resistance.

Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.

Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.

Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal Truth.

Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.

Fast from facts that depress; feasts on truths that uplift.

Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.

Fast from suspicion; feast on truth.

Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.

Fast from shadows of sorrow; feast on the sunlight of serenity.

Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.

Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that supports.”


For Reflection: Consider adding to this poem one or two lines of your own that you would like make part of your personal journey this Lent: “(This Lent I will) Fast from…feast on…”

Step 3: Almsgiving

If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted;

Then light shall arise for you in the darkness and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”

-Isaiah 58:10

The foundational call of Christians to charity is a frequent theme of the Gospels. During Lent, we are asked to focus more intently on “almsgiving,” which means donating money or goods to the poor and performing other acts of charity. As one of the three pillars of Lenten practice, almsgiving is “a witness to fraternal charity” and  “a work of justice pleasing to God.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 2462., “Almsgiving”

During Lent we are encouraged to give alms to one another. Why? Because we are members of a Body…We give alms because we are connected to one another.”

Stay With Us, Lord.

Fr. Robert Barron

Over the last number of years, I have stylized the following of Jesus as learning to know and do the God-Self-Neighbor spiritual process. This is coded language, but it points to the spiritual process Jesus lived by and tried to teach to both his disciples and other people.”

Following Jesus

-John Shea

Simply put, giving alms is helping others, especially the less fortunate. When we love God, we love our neighbor. In the pre-Kingdom-of-God world we live in, many have more than they need, most don’t have enough. We help each other because we are all part of the Body of Christ. Loving our neighbor is the third part of what John Shea calls the “God-Self-Neighbor” spiritual process. Loving our neighbor is, after all, the Great Commandment.

Reflection: What will I do this Lent to help those who are less fortunate?

By taking these three stepping stones into Lent, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, however we practice them, we say ‘yes’ to God’s invitation to re-pent, to think-again, to allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit into an ever-growing spiritual maturity as followers of Christ.

-by Nancy Royal