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The season of Lent is a journey to ponder life’s biggest questions, draw closer to the Lord

The season of Lent begins Feb. 26. How will the path you choose lead you to a stronger relationship with the Lord?

Make a good Lent

Here are some suggestions for prayer, fasting and almsgiving during the penitential season of Lent:

• 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 saints and other devotees who spread devotion to the Sacred Heart; they will 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)

>> Sign up for the Lenten Journey To sign up for the six-week email series, The Lenten Journey, text lentSTL to 84576 or visit www.archstl.org/lent. Each week will include a reflection, action items in the areas of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, links to Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and Bishop Robert J. Hermann’s columns in the St. Louis Review, as well as links to other Lenten reading.

Ash Wednesday is one of the busiest days of the year for the Catholic Church, excluding Easter and Christmas — even though it is not a holy day of obligation.

Almost half of adult Catholics — 45 percent — typically receive ashes at Ash Wednesday services, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. Life Teen, an international youth ministry for teens, reports that Ash Wednesday and Fat Tuesday are the highest traffic days of the year at its website, www.lifeteen.com

Given the popularity of Ash Wednesday, the archdiocesan Department of Evangelization and Discipleship is launching a six-week email campaign called The Lenten Journey, to help others engage with their faith, and ultimately become more involved in their parishes. Each week, participants will receive an email with an invitation to reflect on the core Gospel message through the lens of Lent.

“Repent and Believe” is the theme of the email series, which invites participants to focus on God’s presence in their lives and to help them reflect on who God is and what He desires for them.

“Repent and believe in the Gospel,” is one phrase heard during the distribution of ashes on a person’s forehead at Ash Wednesday. That saying is “the fundamental call of what it means to be a Christian,” said Brian Miller, senior director of evangelization and discipleship for the archdiocese. “No matter how far you are in your journey or where you are, we’re all called to repent and believe in the Gospel. When we make the Gospel the center of our lives, we realize our need for repentance from major sins, from minor sins, and putting Christ at the center.”

Lent is a time to step back and ponder some of the bigger questions of life — Who is God? “Why” did God create the world? Why did God create us?

“We want to help people pause and step back a little bit,” Miller said. “When (the people of) Israel went into the desert, it was a time of purification, getting ready to enter into the promised Land. And the Church gives us the season of Lent every year to do the same thing.”

The email series will provide a short reflection each week, accompanied by suggestions to take action in the areas of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The emails, said Miller, are meant to be a call for deeper conversion for everyone, and to encourage others to dive deeper into parish life.

The Lord speaks to us in the silence, Miller stressed. We receive in Lent the opportunity to focus on the basics of our faith and relationship with the Lord so that we may share that with others. “When you teach something to others, you own it,” he said. “This gives us that grounding.”

Ash Wednesday

Photo Credits: Illustration by Abigail Witte
Ash Wednesday (Feb. 26) is the beginning of Lent, a period of 40 days in which we stop and reflect on our relationship with God. Lent also helps us identify where we may grow spiritually.

The distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday is rooted in Scripture and tradition. In the Old Testament, people used ashes as a sign of repentance, meaning to turn away from sin and to turn toward God. They would sprinkle them on their heads, mingle them with food and drink and sit in them.

Ashes are an outward expression of our need to repent and begin anew. They’re also a sign of physical death, meaning that we began as dust, and our bodies will return to dust until we are raised up by Christ. Ashes typically are imposed with the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return,” while the sign of the cross is marked on the forehead.

By receiving ashes and keeping them on, we publicly proclaim our intent to die to our worldly desires and live even more in Christ’s image, which we focus on during the season of rebirth in Lent.

Ashes are from the burned and blessed palms distributed the previous year on Palm Sunday

Scripture reflections on ashes:

Genesis 2:7 — God formed Adam out of the “dust” of the earth

Genesis 3:19 — “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

John 9:6 — Jesus healed the blind man with clay (earth) and spit)

Daniel 9:3-6 — Fasting, sackcloth and ashes as public signs of repentance and of humility before God

Archdiocesan Lenten regulations

“For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17).

The Church has always helped us fulfill these words of Jesus by prescribing very definite penance for all Catholics, so that we too might have eternal life. Accordingly, the pope and the American bishops have outlined obligatory fast and abstinence as follows:

Ash Wednesday (Feb. 26), all Fridays of Lent and Good Friday (April 10) are days of abstinence (refraining from meat) for all Catholics from age 14 onward. On Good Friday and Ash Wednesday, fast, as well as abstinence, is also obligatory for those 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.

We should strive to make all days of Lent a time of prayer and penance. Following are several resources that can aid in finding different forms of prayer and penance.

Lenten fish fries

Photo Credits: Illustration by Abigail Witte
Bp. Rivituso
Auxiliary Bishop Mark S. Rivituso will visit parish fish fries in the Archdiocese of St. Louis during Lent. At each stop, he will meet with members of the parish community to reflect and have conversations about growing in faith during the season of Lent.

The archdiocesan Office of Communications invites parishes to recommend their fish fry as a potential stop on Bishop Rivituso’s tour. The office is seeking examples of parish fish fries that bring together the faith community in a special way. Recommendations need not include a fish fry menu. To make a recommendation, email [email protected]

The St. Louis Review maintains a map of Lenten fish fries throughout the archdiocese. To submit your fish fry, visit www.archstl.org/st-louis-review/lenten-fish-fries.

Other 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.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/index.cfm

Lenten Gospel Reflections with Bishop Robert Barron and Word on Fire: www.lentreflections.com

Augustine Institute Formed: formed.org

• Alpha: An 11-week series designed to spark conversations about faith, life and God: www.alpha.org

Photo Credits: Illustration by Abigail Witte

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