Lent, a season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, is the pathway toward Easter and Christ's victory over death. This year, Ash Wednesday falls on Feb. 14, and Easter Sunday is April 1.
We posed the question on social media: What are your time-honored Lenten practices? Here's what you had to say.
Make a list of 40 people to pray for. Dedicate 40 minutes a day to pray for one person each day. Or choose one person for whom to pray for 40 minutes a day for all 40 days.
Choose a person to anonymously receive random acts of kindness.
Give up makeup.
Give up your favorite place to shop.
Visit the elderly.
Donate your time.
Make cooking more plain, go to bed earlier. Work on habits to help be a better person — review them along with morning prayer and seek to be more intentional.
Volunteer at the fish fry.
Practice Lectio Divina in daily prayer; or try Visio Divina and visit the Saint John's Bible on permanent display at Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Visit www.seeingtheword.org.
Pray in front of Planned Parenthood.
Find ways to spend less time on the phone. Give up Facebook for Lent and checking email on the phone. There are apps, such as Moment, that track screen time. Or completely eliminate all screen time — phones, TVs and tablets.
Hand write letters to people who have influenced you in some way.
Do your Lenten practice with a friend to hold one another accountable. Mix it up and assign one another a Lenten practice.
Each day during Lent, call someone with whom you haven't connected in a while. Use the time to intentionally listen and connect with that person.
Commit to a Lenten practice that extends once Lent is over, such as another day of morning Mass, or another time slot for adoration, or silent time in the afternoon for spiritual reading.
Spiritually adopt priests, seminarians or religious — write to them and let them know you are praying for their vocations.
Give up the snooze button.
Declutter your physical space.
Make a good-deeds jar: For every good deed or sacrifice, add a bead, colorful plastic hearts, jelly beans or other cool item. Do enough good deeds to fill the jar by Easter.
Make a grapevine wreath filled with toothpicks to represent Jesus' crown of thorns. As each person makes sacrifice of some kind for Jesus or a neighbor, a thorn is removed from the wreath so it is no longer hurting Jesus. The goal is to teach reparation of sins.
Eat soup every night.
Bury the Alleluia.
Invite others for Friday activities, such as Stations of the Cross or meatless meals.
Catholic Lent Madness (www.catholiclentmadness.wordpress.com) is an online game created by Theresa Citrowske and her family to engage families during Lent. Participants will learn about 32 eucharistic miracles and vote for their favorites, in the style of basketball March Madness.
Cover religious images during Lent, bringing all of it back at Easter.
Abstain from a favorite treat and donate the saved money to Rice Bowl. (www.crsricebowl.org)
Ash Wednesday (Feb. 14) and Good Friday (March 30) are days of abstinence for Catholics over the age of 14. On these two days, fast, as well as abstinence, is also obligatory for Catholics from the ages of 18-59. Abstinence means refraining from meat. Fast means one full meal a day, with two smaller meals and nothing between meals (liquids are permitted). No Catholic will lightly excuse himself or herself from this obligation.
All Fridays in Lent are days of abstinence from meat. Here again Catholics will not hold themselves lightly excused, but if there is a serious health problem, this obligation would not apply.
We should strive to make all days of Lent a time of prayer and penance. Following are several resources for finding different forms of prayer and penance.
A note about Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day
This year, Valentine's Day coincides with Ash Wednesday. But don't expect a dispensation from the obligation to fast and abstain from meat. In a recent memo to priests of the archdiocese, Vicar General Msgr. Dennis Stehly noted that "Catholics throughout the world recognize Ash Wednesday as the solemn beginning of a period of prayerful reflection and penance, as is evident by the large number of churchgoers on this day. In view of the significance of Ash Wednesday, the obligation of fast and abstinence must naturally be the priority in the Catholic community." He recommended celebrating Valentine's Day one day early, which also happens to be Mardi Gras, a traditionally festive time before the beginning of the Lenten observance.
Additional Lenten resources
• Living the Eucharist Lenten program: www.livingtheeucharist.org
• Best Lent Ever daily reflections from Dynamic Catholic: dynamiccatholic.com/bestlentever/#signup
• United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: www.stlouisreview.com/bvK