Our writers and others share their Lenten disciplines, experiences, or feelings about the whole thing.
“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot.” Sure, Revelation 3 says it’s speaking to the Angel of the Church in Laodicaea, but I think we all know who the real target is. Me, now.
This Lent, I’m hoping to kick my lifelong lukewarmness habit, at least for a while. I’m not really sure what the Son of Man means when he threatens “to spit you out of my mouth”, but I’d rather not find out. Maybe giving up alcohol and reading more Newman will help?
— Stephen Bullivant
Since 2017 I no longer spend Lent pretending to suffer. I know suffering. Breathtaking suffering that sometimes makes me want to dig into the dirt of my son’s grave with my bare hands just to see his face again. What I do now for Lent is watch comedy specials. Because laughing is a sacrifice. Hearing joy escape my mouth when I want to be yelling at God is a sacrifice. Joy in the face of my son laying in a grave is a sacrifice.
— Leticia Ochoa Adams
During Lent, I give up fiction. This is a big deal for me because I average a couple of novels a week — not, my friends, necessarily fine literature. I’ll read almost anything in certain genres: psychological fiction, mysteries, even chick-lit. I have to read something when I get in bed that is “other,” because if I read something relating to reality — here or in the next life — I may not sleep. (On the other hand, if it’s a good thriller, I may also not sleep either.) I still need a bedtime story to feel safe.
During Lent, I read good theological and devotional books, and I cheat a little by reading biographies or memoirs. The truth is, I look forward to this Lenten discipline as an opportunity to cleanse my brain and spirit — and for Easter I treat myself to buying new fiction at an actual brick and mortar bookstore.
— Maria McFadden Maffucci
To “remember the time past” (Ps. 143:5) is a basic Lenten discipline. The Daily Offices of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter — the monthly recitation of the Psalter, the four, ordered daily readings from Holy Scripture — “call to mind” the sweep of God’s “wonders of old time” (Ps. 77:11), so necessary to the restoration of our friendship with God during Lent.
— Richard Upsher Smith
Each Lent, I paint a small master-copy (a painting that copies an original) for meditation. That gives me the opportunity to spend hours in prayer with an image; allowing time for insights to develop and take root in the heart. Last year I painted Agnus Dei (c. 1639) by Francisco de Zurbaran. In this painting, a lamb, eyes slightly open and legs bound, is presented before the sacrifice. Incongruently, the lamb has horns, recalling the ram offered by Abraham after the angel’s intervention. Abraham’s words to his son, “The Lord will provide”, continually came to mind through the course of the painting.
— Ann Schmalstieg Barrett
This is the Lent that I get to grips with Morning Prayer. Over the last year or so I’ve developed a very strong Evening Prayer discipline — I say it just as my children are falling asleep after bedtime stories. But mornings are not my forte, and I have never established a sustained habit of prayer first thing. From this Wednesday though, I’m setting an alarm for 6 am and remembering the words of a wise preacher from my university days: “The battle of the blanket is won the night before”.
— Niall Gooch
Almost my entire experience of Christians has been with people who expect you to feel certain pious feelings, mostly goopy ones, and judge you for not feeling them, and I’m just not wired that way. I like Lent because I can do something and don’t have to feel anything in particular. The feelings come from the actions, which in Lent means mostly the feeling, both a pleasure and a relief, of breaking a little of the world’s hold on me. Just let me give up something — meat, beer, buying books — or do something extra — spiritual reading, a special good deed for the day — and I’m happy.
— David Mills
For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I was raised in a home that was pretty much nothing but denial, I love to use the time of Lent to form new disciplines. For example, in the past I discovered I was becoming disaffected and withdrawing from life. So I promised to show up early to every last appointment. Another year, I was working to heal my poverty-based relation to money. So instead of agonizing over whether I was “worthy” to buy a pair of new socks, every Friday I made it a Lenten habit to purchase something “frivolous” for myself: a notebook, a snack, a pretty ring.
Each year, I ask the Holy Spirit to show me where my soul could be shored up. Do I need to reach out to friends? Perhaps learn how to listen; really, really stop lecturing and listen. What is the Holy Spirit asking to heal in you? Where are you being guided? What frightening thing that you’ve suppressed does the third person of the Trinity want to restore to you? I wish you wisdom. For me, I’m going to hydrate!
— Emily C. A. Snyder
Until the pandemic, I officiated diligently at Friday Stations of the Cross. I dislike Stations: It’s too tedious for a quick devotion, and too fast for deep contemplation. But I did it anyway, because Jesus fell three times, did you know? Three times. So I did it anyway.
— Fr David Poecking
This Lent I have a spiritual practice for myself and a work of mercy for the community: I’m going to pray the Divine Office at least once per day. Then I’m going to find recipes for meals that can be made entirely from shelf-stable ingredients, buy at least one complete meal a week, put all the cans together and donate them to my community’s free pantry. Prayer helps me remember my duty to help my neighbor, and coming up with effective ways to help my neighbor always brings me back to prayer.
— Mary Pezzulo
I work at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham, and happened to be staying overnight in a hotel when lockdown was announced last year. The university had gradually been getting more deserted and somewhat eerie. The following day I went back to collect what I needed to work at home and left the university having no idea what would happen in the following months. It was Lent and the chapel was dressed in purple.
In the late summer I returned and, as soon as the chapel was opened, I went in to pray and found it still dressed in purple. It was as if time had stood still and we had been living through months of Lent. Given the restrictions on worship at Easter, there is a sense in which we have.
— Philip Booth
The biggest Lenten tradition that our family follows (aside from eating far too much King Cake before Fat Tuesday) is making a point to do weekly check-ins with all of our children. We ask how they are doing with their sacrifices and also, perhaps more importantly, what roadblocks they’re facing. We make sure to include our own struggles and victories during these conversations. I’m hoping that this makes the Lenten season more meaningful for them and for us.
— Lauren Pope
“You’re too rigid,” a priest-confessor told me a few years back (I was his penitent, and this was about the time Pope Francis was making “rigidity” a thing). I had a very rude quip in response. I think I deserve points for not offering by way of riposte.
Pone, Domine, custodiam ori meo, et ostium circumstantiae labiis meis.
Did the Lord finally let me hear His answer to the prayer in which I’d frequently though at best half-heartedly followed the Psalmist?
Craig Ferguson had a bit in a stand-up routine, in which he rehearsed roughly the following triage: “Does this have to be said? Does this have to be said by me? Does this have to be said by me, right now?” He said it took him two marriages and a bit to learn the exercise. Anyway, for the past couple of years, I’ve been trying especially during Lent to be more mindful of what I say.
— Christopher Altieri
This Lent, I’m committing to the Daily Examen. I’m inspired by the way Pope Francis works with concrete situations, which is why Fratelli Tutti and Let Us Dream resonated as I read them. The Examen seeks God in everyday experience, and doesn’t shy away from the emotions. Viewing both my experiences and emotions in light of God’s presence and gratitude for the day, an examination of conscience — and Confession — become more about my relationship with Jesus than a laundry list of sins.
— Wendy Wong Schirmer
I wake up each morning wanting a cup of tea, but not just any cup of tea: I want the last one I have each evening when I’ve put the kids to bed and collapsed into my chair without my laptop. The other six cups of tea I drink between getting up and making dinner are just hydration with a dash of caffeine, but this one is a reward, an indulgence. It says “well done, good and faithful servant: the house is still standing and you have the same number of children you began the day with.”
I crave this all day. And so I give it up for Lent. Like many mothers, I find it difficult to give up or take on really big things without it also being a penance for my family, and sometimes I can’t maintain the same lenten penance each day. Instead I look for small consolations and pleasures that I cling to and see what I can offer, to God each day, even if it is “just” a cup of tea.
— Victoria Seed
Stephen Bullivant, Maria McFadden Maffucci, Richard Upsher Smith, Leticia Ochoa Adams, Niall Gooch, Emily C. A. Snyder, Fr David Poecking, Mary Pezzulo, Philip Booth, and Victoria Seed write for the Catholic Herald, especially in the Chapter House section; Christopher Altieri and David Mills are editors; and Ann Schmalstieg Barrett (painter), Lauren Pope (writer), and Wendy Wong Schirmer (historian) will be writing for the Catholic Herald.
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