From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace: Get fit for Lent

by Lori Fontana, for the Inland Register

(From the March 1, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

Want to shed a few pounds of spiritual flab this Lent? Admit it — we’re all a bit out of shape spiritually, and Lent is a great time to get our souls in shape. Our Catholic tradition gives us a tried and true spiritual fitness plan: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. If these terms sound a bit medieval, can we update them for the Catholic family in the 21st century?

Take prayer. For many people, the word evokes a memory of angelic nuns singing Latin chants in the convent scene in The Sound of Music. With a two-year-old clinging to your knees, an eight-year-old rollerblading in the hallway, and a 12-year-old giggling on the phone, prayer seems a remote possibility. Family prayer calls for creativity and flexibility.

Lent provides a backdrop for more deliberate times set aside for prayer. Before each Sunday of Lent, could your family read the Sunday Gospel together and discuss it? Use a children’s Bible. Let different children read. If your children are aspiring actors, dramatize the reading. These readings recall dramatic times in the life of Jesus and his disciples. Talking together about these stories of Jesus’ life and death will make them more real to the whole family.

The weeks of Lent could be a special time of intercessory prayer. Each day of the week, pray for a different need of our world — families and friends, teachers and people in leadership roles, people who lack life’s basic necessities, areas of the world torn by strife and famine. Ask your children whom they want to remember in prayer.

Simple decorations signify Lent as a special time of the Christian year. A purple table runner or tablecloth and a wooden cross, perhaps made from two sticks from your yard, bound together with twine, give the dinner table a Lenten focus. Some families “plant” a bare branch in a pot of earth and leave it bare during Lent. Then for Easter, the children decorate the branch with blown, dyed eggs or bright ribbons — the new life of the Resurrection.

Now, the fasting: perhaps you remember when every Catholic abstained from meat on all Fridays, and fasted from food and drink for 12 hours before receiving Holy Communion. Fasting and abstinence of this sort are rare disciplines in the modern church. But there is value in these practices, and I think they can be adapted to be a help to our lives.

Each Lent, we’ve asked our children to “give up” something they really like. It’s basically their choice, but it can’t be “homework” or “liver.” It must be something that hurts a little. Most of us in our culture are so pampered. Our lives are a continual feast — of any food imaginable, of all sorts of material comforts, of a steady stream of information and entertainment.

Ancient wisdom reminds us that there can be no feast without fast. If we are never “hungry” for anything, we can never truly appreciate the sublime delicacies of life’s great feasts. The rich food, the joyful dance, the glorious “Alleluia” of Easter becomes just another day if we’ve been “eating, dancing, and celebrating” throughout the Lenten season.

Some things to give up for Lent: candy (or just chocolate), TV or a particular favorite program, listening to the radio, lattes — a family we know has a soup night once a week during Lent, with a simple meal of broth and bread, often inviting another family to join them. Sometimes the kids are still a bit hungry after their simple meal. Sometimes our kids whine about wanting just one Snickers bar, pleeeeze!

It’s a challenge to keep Lenten “fasts,” but that’s the point. This is spiritual exercise, and just as an athlete gives up time with friends or sleep or certain foods to train for her sport, we can give up something we like so as to create an empty space in our lives and our hearts. God is just waiting to fill this empty place with his love.

Fasting can lead us to be more generous almsgivers. Less spare change spent on our daily latte means a little extra cash to give to Catholic Charities for the Indian earthquake victims or to the St. Vincent de Paul’s good works. Less time in front of the TV means a few hours a week when our family could visit elderly neighbors or make sandwiches at the soup kitchen. Almsgiving can be a giving of any of our resources: time, talent, and treasure. The world is a better place for our generosity, and the Good News of Easter is made a little more tangible to a suffering world.

Prayer, fasting, and alms-giving — try out these age-old practices to form your own family fitness plan for Lent. Whatever your plan — stretch! Difficult though it may be, it’s the only way our spiritual muscles will grow. And the preparations we make in Lent make all the difference in how we celebrate Easter — Jesus’ Resurrection, the heart of our faith.

(Lori Fontana works in evangelization ministry in the Diocese of Yakima.)


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