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The Lenten Desert Where Souls Are Purified

Wait...isn't it still ordinary time? Yes. for the Ordinary Form the brief Ordinary Time between Christmas and Lent is still going on. For any attendees of Extraordinary Form, this post is a bit behind as the Pre-Lenten Season began at the end of January. Wednesday February 14 , 2024 begins the season of Lent (sorry St. Valentine but dinners may have to be delayed). Lent prepared each one of us for the celebration of Easter. I apologize to the protestants as I am certain you may also celebrate this time The word "Lent" comes form the Old English word "Lencten' which simply means "springtime" (I admit I had to google this). Perhaps it's fitting to have the orign of the word lent connect to the natural seasons, for Lent is often seen as a time of spiritual renewal.

Lent prepares each person (hopefully) for Easter. The season last 40 days which coincidentally how long Jesus remained in the desert before his public ministry. Traditionally, at least in the Catholic Church, the faithful do a penance during this time usually in the form of giving something up. Alternatively, one can do something throughout this season in order to renew their relationship with God.

Now, usually as this season grows near, I tend to become rather scrupulous about what I should give up (or do). I want to always make an effort to discern what most prevents me from a deep relationship with Christ. Ironically, scrupulosity separates me from God. Not to say that this Lent I will give that up for Lent, as it's somewhat connected to my mental health which sometimes I can't entirely control. How does one discern their penance?

This is a very personal process. But I think I may be able to share some advice about this.

Recall that at the end of his forty days in the desert, Jesus was tempted by Satan. He defeats Satan. So perhaps, my most important advice would be ask Jesus what is most preventing you from a deeper relationship with him; he will not fail to reveal that. He knows what you need better than anyone, even you. He also loves you more than you know and desires a close with you so he wants to purify your soul so you can enter paradise.

Secondly, if you ask and do not feel like you hear an answer, reflect and see if you may be ignoring an aspect of your life which hinders your relationship with Jesus that is right in front of you. I know sometimes I've asked God what I should give up only to realize that I know I need to sacrifice, but I might believe it won't be possible to give that up or that is is not smart to give it up if I don't cut it out completely (mostly talking about the year I gave up social media, but had to use it sometimes as I was on the Media and Marketing team for the Ball State Newman center at the time).

Thirdly, do not just go for the low-hanging fruit. It is common to see sacrifices such as giving up sweets. This may be a perfect sacrifice for someone. A person may struggle with gluttony as it is understood in general; so, giving up sweets will help them in self-discipline. But for someone like me who can easily sacrifice sweets and generally eats "healthy", giving up sweets would be not much of a sacrifice at all. Low-hanging fruit may make Lent easy, but not necessarily substantially fruitful (though it might be fruitful to an extent). So I guess contained in this advice is another piece of advice....let's get to it now.

So fourthly, consider in what way you could grow in self-discipline. This may not be in sacrifice by giving something up, though it it doesn't have to be. Perhaps, you find that you should add some devotion or practice to your life to grow spiritually during Lent. You might have discovered that you have a draw to a particular saint, even to Mary or to St. Joseph, so you could find a way to cultivate your relationship with that Saint. For Mary, it could be that you want to integrate a daily rosary to your schedule or start saying The Angelus once a day. This year as Catholics prepare for the Eucharistic Congress in July, perhaps, if you are Catholic, consider creating self-discipline through going to Daily Mass more often or attending Eucharistic adoration once a week (a practice I'm attempting to integrate into my spiritual life).

Lastly, do not be hard on yourself. This piece of advice is partially for me. It may feel like once you make a decision, you may not have made the right one. Do not doubt your decision. If you discerned with the intention of growing closet to Christ, he, like I said previously, he knows what you need the most in your spiritual life. The doubt, is likely from the devil whose least wish is for you to grow closer to God. Now after discernment, there needs to be implementation.

I would love to say I can give some extraordinary advice about how to practically practice your choice of penance. I honestly can not remember what I gave up for Lent last year. To be fair I also was going on a mission during Lent. There was also household formation going on. So those memories perhaps stick more. I do recall giving up Social Media for Lent in 2021, as mentioned before. I did allow myself to use it for the Media and Marketing team for the Newman Center at Ball State. I remember discovering just how attached to Social Media I was. Yet, I was able to healthily cut it out with the fact that it was part of my "job". In implementation of a penance, be careful to regulate how extreme to take it if, it is part of your life which is not for pleasure.

Another point on implementation of a penance is to note when temptation may occur for your penance. If you gave up sweets for instances, probably don't go right for the dessert menu at a restaurant. If you give up social media as I did, perhaps delete the social media apps from your phone, so it's not tempting to use them when you're on your phone. It will vary on your penance, but perhaps pray about how to practice your penance.

Ok.. so basically my overall advice is pray. Prayer is one of the pillars of Lent along with fasting and almsgiving (so dive into those too). So it really does make sense that when it comes down to it prayer is my advice. It is conversation with God whom we strive to grow closer to in this season. So let Lent be a time to experience a springtime in your prayer life, and your spiritual life as a whole. Happy (sort of) Lent!!


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