Lent is upon us again, with all its solemnity and crucial importance. But, being human, we are seized once again with the temptation to breeze through it and rush toward the joy of Easter, avoiding the challenge of a thorough spiritual renewal. 

When we think of fasting, we slide into thoughts of dieting and the extra pounds we’ve been meaning to shed for some time to accommodate our vanity. When we think of “giving up,” we ponder substitutions — sparkling water with lime, perhaps, instead of Diet Coke.  

This year, why not aim higher?

Thankfully, the Church knows we need help to carry our cross properly this Lenten season, and She has plenty to offer. Here are three options that sound marvelous to us:

Bishop Barron’s daily Lenten Gospel reflections 

An Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Bishop Robert Barron is a rock star of evangelization for our times. Smart, engaging, moving, and, most of all, accessible, his homilies and written reflections reach both souls longing for more and souls who hardly knew there was anything to long for.

Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron speaks during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore Nov. 11, 2019. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

He connects his audience with the depth and breadth of the Gospel — the good news of God’s love that never gets old but surprises mankind age after age. He does all this with a “cool factor” that is inspiring to those of us who take apostolate seriously. This Lent, Bishop Barron offers daily Lenten reflections — for free.  

Barron calls Lent our chance to “apprentice to Jesus in his forty-day sojourn in the desert.” Far beyond “giving up” and scattered attempts to pray harder, Barron invites us to dwell with our Master in the material bareness of the desert, where our minds find clarity and the eyes of our souls are opened to the truths that set us free. Isn’t this a thirst quencher much better than sparkling water? You can sign up at https://www.lentreflections.com.

Legionary priest Father Jorge Obregon’s pro-life Lenten plan for Spanish speakers: Lifesavers 

Father Jorge Obregon. (Benewire.com)

If you, like us, are Spanish speakers and living a bilingual life, you should check out the daily Lenten program put together by Father Jorge Obregon through his group Lifesavers. This program connects us to the cross and the desert, yes, but with a special focus on human dignity. Jesus elevated our humanity immeasurably when he took on our flesh and taught us to embrace our crosses when he did not disdain his own. 

In the Lenten path of Lifesavers, we are invited to see the face of Jesus in each of our brothers and sisters, at every stage of life and in every condition. This pro-life campaign includes commentary by leading experts and suggestions to deepen our daily prayer during Lent this year. Join the “miles luchando por la vida” by enrolling at benewfire.com

Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches,” by George Weigel, Elizabeth Lev, and Stephen Weigel

And finally, if, like us, you will not be able to make a pilgrimage to Rome this Lent, you can do so virtually and prayerfully with the help of a beautiful book put together by George Weigel, his son Stephen, and renowned art historian Elizabeth Lev

Visiting each of the “Station Churches” in Rome during Lent is sacred tradition — one which seemed all but forgotten until seminarians and student priests began walking the pilgrim’s road to celebrate Mass each morning of Lent at a stational church in the 1970s.

George and Stephen Weigel spent Lent and Easter Week together in Rome back in 2011. Guided by Lev, father and son made the Lenten station church pilgrimage — a pilgrimage to certain churches that had been built on, above, or around the tombs of martyrs — “in full.” Their “itinerary of conversion” produced a beautiful book that combines history, the richness of art and architecture, and the liturgical rhythm and readings of the Lenten season. The profound beauty captured in Roman Pilgrimage draws readers to the good and true found in our vocation and mission as Christians in the middle of the world.

These are just three possibilities out of an enormous array of options. Lent is meant to be transformative, and prepare us to reach Easter chastened, cleansed, and pure. Take one of these suggestions or find some other effective way to walk with Jesus in the desert or sit at the foot of his cross. And pray for us as we do our best. We are hoping to reach the Easter Vigil or wake on Easter morning with hearts fully prepared to rejoice at the sight of the empty tomb, and the knowledge of our Savior risen.