What are you doing for Lent?
It's a pretty common question this time of year. We're supposed to DO things. Holy things. Self-sacrificing things. And then there are other things we're NOT supposed to do. Eat chocolate, maybe? Drink caffeine? Swear?
With the abundant resources of all the bloggers out there sharing their ideas, it can be easy to think that everyone else has Lent all figured out and that we need to DO all.the.things right now to DO Lent well.
I don't know about you, but I just don't have it all together. Not right now. Not ever, really. I'm late to library story time every single week. It takes me time to get my little people all moving in the right direction (and just when we're ready to leave, someone almost always has to poop). Being prepared for an entire liturgical season before it starts is out of the question, I'm afraid. The minute I jump on Pinterest and start looking up craft ideas for my kids to teach them all about all the Lent-y things, I start heading toward the deep end of the pool, and that never ends well for me.
The thing about Lent is that it's not really that much about what we DO at all. It's a journey. It takes us through the desert for 40 days, giving us the opportunity to put aside distractions, to focus on our spiritual lives and to grow closer to Christ.
I need the full length of that journey to feel like I'm getting somewhere.
For me, Lent needs to feel different than the rest of my life, but it needs to be simple.
And it can be. Really.
There are three categories of things we're called to do during this penitential season.
1. Prayer. We should pray...more than we usually do. Or in a more focused way. Or something.
Our family is adding the traditional table grace after meals. It goes like this:
We give Thee thanks, Almighty God, for all Thy benefits,
Who lives and reigns, world without end, Amen.
We haven't done this prayer before, so I've written it on a little card to keep on the table. We'll read it together after each meal until we have it memorized. Sam has requested we also learn it in Latin, so we'll do that after we have the English down.
I'm also reaffirming my commitment to pray the Angelus at noon. On the days we do it, it really helps calm everyone down and refocuses us before lunch (which is still the craziest time of the day around here). Here's a little background on how we got started with this ancient prayer (and a link to a beautiful slide show of the Angelus in Latin sung by the Daughters of Mary).
2. Fasting. We should fast.
Catholics are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We're obliged to abstain from eating meat) on all the Fridays during Lent. Other denominations practice fasting, too, in different ways. If you need suggestions for meals without meat this year, Beth Anne has a great linkup going on with meatless meal recipes every week of Lent. You can also check out her board on Pinterest with recipe ideas.
If you need to do more than that, you can try giving up something else as a fast...but that's extra. It's a tradition to give things up, but sometimes we get so hung up on what we're supposed to be giving up (or how it's already Tuesday and Lent starts tomorrow and I still don't know what I'm giving up and what am I going to do??) that we forget that this is just one small part of Lent.
3. Almsgiving. We should give charitably. More than usual. Or differently. Or something.
Our family eats out less during Lent and contributes the money we save to Catholic Relief Services' Rice Bowl through our parish. We do this because it's simple and concrete and manageable. I hope as our children grow, we will be able to do some volunteering or otherwise give of our time during Lent to help others. It's not easy to do that right now...and although it might never be easy to do it, there will come a time when it's more possible. Part of making Lent manageable for me is accepting my limitations...I can't do everything I'd like to do right now. Maybe you're feeling like that, too.
It's okay. Journey, remember? We don't have to have it all figured out yet.
I've rounded up a bunch of links here with Lent-related stuff. Some are posts about ideas of things to do for Lent. Some are resources- books to read, music to help you focus, family activities to do together. They are separated by category, and I'll add to the list as I find new resources to share with you.
Please keep in mind that these are just here to help you. No one is going to do all these things. If you think that you'll get stressed out reading about what other people are doing, then just skip this part.
Lent is not about our stress. It's not about our needing to figure things out. It's not about how we need to improve our lives or how we ought to be more holy. It's not actually about us at all. It's not about any of us...and nothing we decide to DO is going to change that.
Lent is a chance to strip away some things that obscure what is most important...that while we are wandering around down here in the confusion and self-importance of our lives, God loves us and sends Christ to show us the way to Him. That we are so oblivious to what is happening that we kill Him. That Christ, the embodiment of Love, willingly sacrifices his life for us. That Love is so powerful that even death can't defeat it. That Christ is ultimately victorious over death, and that we (in spite of all the ways we've screwed up) get to be God's, forever.
That's huge, life-changing and amazing...and it's much bigger than any resolution or penance or sacrifice we can make.
We have 40 days to walk through the desert and meditate on all of that, using whatever tools and resources are the most helpful for each of us. No hair shirts required. It's a journey toward grace, and there's grace along the way for the times we'll inevitably slip up.
Just take a deep breath, head out on your journey tomorrow, and resolve to take Jesus as your companion and to keep him company between now and Easter.
Really, it's the least we can do.
Now, for the big list of links!
Things to listen to and/or read
Christy at Fountains of Home put together a lovely list of great books to read for Lent with thoughtful descriptions. I found several things on her list inspiring and am just having trouble narrowing it down.
Here's a list of book suggestions by Simcha Fisher at the National Catholic Register- mostly non-fiction reflections and theology with a bit of fiction thrown in for good measure.
Elizabeth Foss shares an annotated list of what is in her family's book basket for Lent (a time of year in which our book basket seems pretty anemic- I'm hoping to add a few things from her list this year).
And for your ears, try the beautiful voices of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles on their newest CD release, Lent at Ephesus. Here is a glowing review by Kathy Schiffer on Patheos.You can stream the album at Spotify or purchase on Amazon.com or from a Catholic retailer (and probably some other places, too).
Finally, I put together a Lent-inspired playlist for Spotify. You can find it here.
Ways to connect on social media
Follow Virtual Abbey (@Virtual_Abbey) on Twitter for daily morning and evening prayer tweets. I have my phone set so that I get a notification when those tweets come, and it usually reminds me to stop and pay attention to them. The prayers are usually short (less than 5 minutes) and come from a variety of sources, depending on who is doing the tweeting. You can follow along silently or retweet the prayers line by line.
Kimberly Hartman (@dancingcrane) faithfully tweets the Angelus every single day. You can follow along with her or retweet, also. For some history and information on the #twitterangelus, go here.
Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas has created a great board on Pinterest with lots of links and resources for liturgical living in March, and there are plenty of good Lenten resources there.
You are warmly invited to join my Lent-stagram photo-a-day project. We will have daily photo prompts based on the lectionary readings for the day. Share your photos with our community on social media using the hashtag #HolyLens. You can also post photos on your blog.
Here are the prompts for the first week.
Apps and web sites for people who like apps and web sites
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has a page set up with lots of resources for Lent, including a downloadable daily calendar.You can also find the daily lectionary scripture readings there (in the clickable calendar on the right-hand sidebar).
Rice Bowl app from Catholic Relief Services is a new app that goes along with the Rice Bowl program used by many parishes (including mine). There is a daily calendar along with recipe ideas and suggestions for actions you can take to have a global impact with your Lent practices. You can also follow @CRSRiceBowl on Twitter and sign up to have weekly e-mail reflections delivered to your inbox.
Laudate app is a free app that contains the readings and Daily Office for each day, plus information on saints of the day and traditional prayers for reference.
Sacred Space is a daily prayer site hosted by Irish Jesuits based on the lectionary scripture readings for the day. It follows a lectio divina model- scripture is presented artfully on the screen with prompts or questions for reflection. It's beautiful.
If you find yourself worried about "the meat police," FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) has released a free app called Lentsanity that will send you daily reflections and reminders not to eat meat. (My college roommate used to just write it on a dry erase board in our apartment, but this is a new era.) Check it out here- the funky Meat Police video will make you giggle, even if you don't have a smartphone.
Ideas for families to observe Lent at home
The St. Nicholas Center has set up a great Lent page this year with activities, food and prayers beginning with Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) and continuing through Easter. There are lots of great resources there. (Bonus: you can bookmark the page to go back to it in Advent.)
Here's how we set up our Bean Jar for small acts of sacrifice (inspired by Karen Edmisten). This post also has some ideas about decorating (or undecorating) for Lent at home.
How to Make a Lenten Sacrifice Jar at two Os plus more - a different take on the bean jar with individual jars for each family member.
Try planting Lenten grass on Ash Wednesday (from Kitchen Parade). This is a new tradition for us, but we are planning to try it this year.
Make a Stations of the Cross box to pray the Stations with young children. We made one last year based on Bonnie's thoughtful ideas at A Knotted Life, and it was pretty successful with my oldest (then 4 years old).
Sarah at two Os plus more also has a great list of developmentally appropriate ways to help young children observe Lent.
Ideas of things to do (things to give up, things to add, things to think about)
100 Things to do for Lent by Meg Hunter Kilmer
Outside the Box: A list of 66 things to give up or take up for Lent at Catholic All Year
Molly of Molly Makes Do offers an easy-to-remember framework for deciding what to do for Lent
(and a beautiful graphic to help remind you)
A list of 40 things to do for Lent by Nadia Bolz Weber is organized by day with one task for each day of Lent. (Remember, Sundays don't count...if you do a task on Sundays, you'll run out before Easter arrives.)
Try chanting the psalms. This introductory series is easy to follow with clear instructions. I used it to start learning to chant many years ago, and it has served me well. Even if you think you can't sing, chanting lets you experience Psalms in a completely new way. Plus, if you ever find yourself at a monastery during prayers, you'll feel right at home.
Last year, I gave up social media entirely from Ash Wednesday until Easter. Here is my list of 30 things I could do instead of Facebooking my way through Lent.
Lenten Meatless Meal Plan Linkup at Beth Anne's Best
Meatless meal ideas from Rosie at A Blog for My Mom
A collection of meatless meal ideas from Sarah at two Os plus more
That should get you started, anyway.
If you have any links to add, please let me know! I'll be adding all of these to my Lent board on Pinterest- feel free to follow me over there (I'm dere_abbey).
Whatever you decide to do or stop doing this Lent, I hope it's fruitful for you and that your Lenten practices help you and your family to prepare for Easter. All of you are in my daily prayers. If you have specific intentions for which I could pray, please let me know- you can e-mail me at abbey(dot)dupuy(at)gmail(dot)com or reach out in any other way that feels good to you. I'd be so happy to be able to pray for some specific need you have.
Blessings to each and every one of you- I'm so glad to have your company on the journey.
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