Lent is a season of sacrifice. Generally, we think of Lenten sacrifice in terms of “giving up” something that we enjoy. Truly meaningful Lenten sacrifices negate the negatives in our lives through repentance: positive actions taken to battle the things distracting us from spiritual growth.
The Church calls us to observe three specific disciplines during Lent as a form of sacrifice in our lives: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Lenten sacrifices are meant to transform us. They change our spiritual perspective as we acknowledge our need for repentance and our desire to draw closer to Jesus Christ.
“Christ loved us even unto death, continuing to love no matter what,” said Father Jim Clarke, director of spiritual formation at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo. “We unite with his passion through our own crucifixion when we realize we are not living in our authenticity.”
Seeking that Christian authenticity, noted Father Clarke, is a challenging, painful work that we need to bring before God to shift our focus to his will rather than our own. This work requires that we seek deeper meaning through theological reflection in prayer.
Father Clarke called this work the “sacrifice of one’s ego on the altar of one’s soul.” Take a step back, offer up your troubles of the day, the struggles at work, family troubles. Let it go. Release it.
Offer yourself up for your children, for the poor, the unemployed, the sick, the persecuted.
Become vulnerable. Christ himself became our example of vulnerability. He became flesh as an innocent babe, food to nourish us and the perfect sacrifice. “That which is truly sacrificed (offered up), becomes glorified (transfigured),” Father Clarke said.
“God is a God who can be touched,” he continued. “When we become vulnerable, we can touch God. True prayer allows that.”
Lack of prayer is laziness of life in the spirit, and many identify it as sin. Prayer is a means to an end, and that end is meant to be eternal life in Jesus Christ.
St. Paul tells us, “Pray without ceasing” in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Lent is a time for us to move deeper in our prayer lives, to seek deeper meaning, to become more like Christ. “Authentic prayer touches our deepest desire,” said Father Clarke. “When we become our prayer, we become authentically attuned to God’s presence.”
If you already have an active, devoted prayer life, find ways to go deeper during Lent. Transform your prayer experience; change your perspective.
If you usually pray indoors — pray outdoors at sunrise or sunset.
If you usually pray out loud — practice silent, meditative prayer.
If you usually pray alone — pray with family, friends or a prayer group.
If your prayer is very intellectual — try prayer of the imagination or spirit, like using Lectio Divina as a meditative prayer on Scripture.
Turn you prayer experience upside down. Renew your form of prayer, creating a different experience through which you can be renewed in spirit.
Prayer life can be a struggle today. Worldly pressures put strains on our time, and “finding time” for prayer can often seem difficult.
If you are looking to get your prayer life jumpstarted, don’t get overwhelmed. During Lent, take an opportunity to step back and strip away the pressures of the day.
Start simply. Take time for reflection.
Allow a sense of desire for right relationship with God to well up inside your soul. Offer yourself up, “turning it over to God, so that he can work through you,” said Father Clarke.
Pope Francis declared Lent a “time of combat.” He recently stated, “Read the Gospel every day, meditate on it, just a little bit, maybe 10 minutes; and also always carry it with you: in your pocket, purse … but keep the Gospel at hand.”
Reading the Psalms can also be a great source of prayerful inspiration.
Devotional aids are helpful. One can pray the rosary daily for Lent, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy or many other prayers. Praying before icons or statues can bring forth prayerful devotion, as can coming before the eucharistic presence of Christ in adoration.
Allow prayer to make you vulnerable. Father Clarke said that, “a vulnerable position of heart becomes transformed into the true power of the Cross.”
“God’s raising of Jesus from the dead was a confirmation of his life and teachings. When we live in a vulnerable way, God also will confirm in us that true power resides in right relationship with him. He will confirm this in us through our own resurrection,” said Father Clarke.
Our Lenten prayer comes from the depths. We empty ourselves and unite with the sacrifice of Christ in his passion.
Our Easter prayer will come from the heights. God will fill us with the spirit of the risen Christ and we will be renewed.
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his,” said St. Paul in Romans 6:5.
Let the sacrifice of your Lenten prayer unite you to Jesus in his passion and death, so that, in that sacrifice, you are then renewed through the glory of his resurrection.