It was Ash Wednesday and I was sitting near the front of the packed church. Midway through Mass, as people walked forward to receive ashes, my eyes were drawn to a baby in his daddy’s arms. The baby had a bald Charlie Brown head and protruding ears. There, in the middle of his glow-in-the-dark white forehead, was the smudge of ashes. It was a striking sight. This baby was not yet capable of sin, and yet he was born with original sin. He still needs a savior.
The following morning, I was sitting in the sacristy as the priest vested for daily Mass. “So, what are you giving up for Lent?” he inquired in that uniquely Catholic way. (Protestants rarely ask such a question due to Jesus’ admonition to not draw attention to one’s fasting, prayer and acts of charity.)
“Actually, I don’t know yet,” I replied honestly.
“You don’t know?” he said, surprised. “But Lent started yesterday!”
“I know,” I groaned. “I want to do something to mark Lent, but I like to ask God what he has in mind for me. I haven’t heard the answer yet.”
I received my answer the next day. In a discussion with one of my daughters, she told of a unique Lenten observance suggested by her university chaplain. He’d explained that most people give up a single thing such as sweets or Facebook, or they commit to a specific act of prayer or charity, such as praying a daily psalm or volunteering at a soup kitchen.
The priest admitted that he sometimes grows bored with such an approach. Instead, he prayerfully identifies six sacrifices or actions that he wishes to take during Lent. He lists them on a piece of paper and numbers them one through six. Then, each morning in Lent, he rolls a die. Whichever number comes up, that is the sacrifice or action for that day. For those who are uncomfortable using dice or don’t have any, one can rotate through the six items for the 40 days of Lent.
The priest explained that he likes this method because it keeps things fresh. It also enables him to work on multiple areas of his life at once. Regardless of the method we choose, the idea is to loosen our attachment to worldly attractions, strengthen our relationship with God and reach out to those in need.
Here, in no particular order, are some ideas for Lenten observances.
• all negative talk
• social media
• fast food
• eating out
Daily acts of charity or prayer:
• Give away one item from your closet;
• Write a letter to someone;
• Visit a shut-in;
• Read one chapter of the Bible;
• Contact a single parent and ask what you can do to help;
• Visit someone in a hospital or nursing home;
• Go to weekday Mass;
• Volunteer at a soup kitchen;
• Spend half an hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament;
• Call someone you haven’t spoken with in a long time;
• Clean out a closet;
• Raise money for a charity;
• Pray a rosary;
• Ask someone for forgiveness;
• Call your mother.
II Chron. 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land.”
If my people will humble themselves and pray.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.