Lent is a time of penance. It is a time when we reflect on the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. Catholics have three main practices during Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. All Catholics, young and old, can participate in these practices.
Prayer is an essential part of the Lenten experience. There is a saying that without prayer, fasting is just dieting. Without prayer, almsgiving is just social work. Prayer connects us with our loving God. So during Lent, it is important to focus more time on prayer. This is a good time to develop a daily prayer habit if you don’t already have one. If you already have a prayer habit, consider adding to it. Or change it up if your routine has become stale and dry.
Fasting helps us focus on God as the greatest importance in our lives. Other things we can do without. It unites us with our Lord Jesus who fasted in the desert for 40 days. Sometimes we are called to give up a food item, like candy or soda. Sometimes we are called to give up something which is occupying our time, like video games or endless checking on social media. This is a good time to think about what is ruling your life. Where is your attention drawn? What is occupying your time and thoughts? Give that thing up. And then when Lent is over, contemplate where your focus went when you no longer had that thing. Were you more able to focus on God and others? If so, try not to let the thing you gave up take over your life again. If you go back to it, keep it under control and in check.
The third Lenten practice is almsgiving. Almsgiving is the act of giving to the poor. Through almsgiving we share God’s love with others and we recognize that the gifts we have are not really our own. If the thing you are fasting from leaves a little extra money in your pocket, then give that money to a worthy charity which helps the poor. You can also donate goods. If you really want to push yourself, give your time in direct service to another. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or visit a shut in. Acts of service such as these can also be considered almsgiving, especially if you do them with the intention of sharing your gifts. And who knows, you might receive a gift yourself. You might encounter Jesus in the faces of those you are serving.