My friend Jeremy and I met with our ninth-grade D-group last week to talk about Lent. The turnout was light that night, and with Ash Wednesday just a few days away, I thought I’d share some of what we discussed in hopes that others might benefit. Here are five tips for building spiritual strength this Lent:
- Prepare Yourself. If you haven’t already, spend some quiet time in prayer. Ask the Lord what He wants for you this Lent. If we don’t take time to prepare, we often default to the same old things we are comfortable with or we have struggled to keep in the past. Ask Him specifically about each of the three Lenten disciplines—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—and listen for His reply in the movements of your heart. How does He want you to grow in prayer? What good thing does He want you to give up for the next several weeks? How is He asking you to love your neighbor this year?
- Challenge Yourself. When you ask God what He wants from you, be prepared for an answer that might push you a bit. The Lord wants us to grow in holiness, but He does not challenge us beyond our abilities. I remember the teens in our Michigan youth group saying, “I could never give up such-and such!” and immediately seeking something else to sacrifice. If the Lord challenges you to do something difficult, lean into it—ask Him how to go about it, rather than steering the conversation to a more comfortable conclusion.
- Pace Yourself. Don’t be afraid to start small. When we lean into a challenge and talk with God about it, He helps us come up with small ways to build our spiritual strength. For example, if the Lord calls you to step away from your smartphone, and you’re not sure you can do that for all of Lent, maybe pick one day a week to be device-free—the Lord’s Day, perhaps, or Friday. On the flip side, sometimes we enter Lent with big ideas about the sacrifices we are ready to endure, but unless we’ve been practicing small sacrifices throughout the rest of the year, we may not be ready. Self-control takes practice, but even small sacrifices made with love are pleasing to God.
- Push Yourself. If you start small this Lent and feel called to do more, answer that call! My bride, Jodi, often adds to her Lenten commitments each week, building spiritual strength and momentum as she gets closer to Easter. It’s a great way to push yourself, grow in holiness, and learn your limitations.
- Be Gentle With Yourself. If you are challenging or pushing yourself as Lent goes on, there’s a good chance you’ll slip up or fall down—and that’s okay. I have found myself at both ends of the Lenten spectrum: either throwing up my hands and giving up entirely when I’m not perfect or trying to do too much and white-knuckling it through Lent while those around me suffer my ill temper and frustration. If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to start again, always in prayer. Growth is the goal, not instant perfection.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which is this Wednesday, March 2. Mass times are 7:45 AM (school Mass; open to all), 5:00 PM, and 7:00 PM—and don’t forget to fast and abstain from meat that day. Lenten guidelines are online at usccb.org/prayer-worship/liturgical-year/lent. Have a blessed Lent!
This post appeared as a column in the Sunday, February 27, 2022, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.
“Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of the mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the starts, and they pass by themselves without wondering.”St. Augustine
In last weekend’s gospel reading, Jesus is rejected in His hometown. His family, friends and neighbors watched Him grow up among them, and as the old saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” The better we think we know a something, the less special it seems.
In a country like ours, in which Mass is readily accessible and religious persecution is relatively rare and non-violent, we can be tempted to regard Jesus in the Holy Eucharist in the same way. Our priests celebrate five Sunday Masses each weekend at St. Michael alone, and in an effort to urge people to resume going to church in person, the Church has emphasized how easy it is to find a Mass near you, wherever you are.
All of which makes it easy to say, I can go to Mass later. I can go to Mass anytime. I guess I’ll go next week.
I was talking with our son Trevor the other day and used the phrase “more money than God.” It occurred to me as I said it that the phrase could be taken two ways:
- The first is the typical way: So-and-so has a greater amount of money than God has. (Not that God needs money…)
- The second is more ominous: So-and-so has more money than the amount of God he has.
The second interpretation is the one Jesus warns us against, most concisely in Matthew 6:24: You cannot serve both God and mammon.
What is mammon? Wealth and riches, particularly in excess. Historically the word was thought to reference a demon or god associated with material wealth.
I’d like to think we’re not at risk of placing money ahead of God. We are not wealthy by US standards; we live on a budget and give to the church as best we can. Several years ago, Jodi and I began to dig out of debt—and while that journey is ongoing, last week we shared a short video outlining why we are supporting the parish’s BOLD FUTURE campaign.
We are blessed, we know it, and we are trying to share those blessings. Surely we have more God than money in our lives…right?
Note: This post appeared as a column in the Sunday, January 17, bulletins for the St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.
Despite what you may have heard growing up, curiosity is not a virtue. It’s natural for children to be curious: everything is new and wondrous, and developing brains absorb it all like a sponge. Parents are naturally excited to see their children explore the world around them and encourage them to take it all in—but at a certain point, our desire to know outstrips our need.
[T]he snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.”Genesis 3:4-5
It is not insignificant that the tree at the center of Man’s fall from grace into sin is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve had all they needed. They walked in perfect love and justice with each other and with God. But they grasped at more and fell—and all of us with them.
The solitary serpent that tempted our first parents seems to have the entire world in its coils today, and I find myself increasingly drawn to try to make sense of the chaos. On some level this makes sense: I have a family to care for and protect, and a responsibility to build God’s kingdom even in the ruins around me.
Note: This post appears as the Sunday, January 10, bulletin column for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.
Many years ago, I ran across this bit of wisdom from Chinese poet Ching An:
“The joke’s on me: This year’s man is last year’s man.”Ching An
Ain’t that the way of things? It may be a new year, but old habits die hard. As a result, many of us step boldly into January with big plans and a lot of false bravado to disguise our limp and cover our crutches.
For example, every January I struggle to accept all the things I haven’t accomplished in the previous year. What I have achieved doesn’t matter; the list of things I wish I’d done is always longer—invariably leading to speculation about what I need to do differently: