Out of the gate, let’s just say that Lenten disciplines are not meant to be creative or unconventional. Their purpose is penitential: To achieve that 'freedom of heart' that allows us to love God and our neighbours more freely (CCC §2043). That said, sometimes Lent can feel a bit stale, and the regular, clichéd fasts (sweets, alcohol, coffee, etc.) leave us with the feeling that something’s wanting.
Remember: fasting is only one element of the Lenten journey. If you’re still looking for something a bit outside of the box, or wanting to approach Lent holistically (with prayer, almsgiving, and fasting), we’ve gathered some ideas to give you a boost.
1. Daily pray the Litany of Humility: Written by Cardinal Merry del Val under the papacy of Pope Pius X, the Litany of Humility has become one of the most well-known. Deprive yourself of some sleep, get up early and begin each day with this powerful litany.
2. Meditate on an image of Christ crucified: The Catechism tells us that ‘the human heart is converted by looking upon him whose our sins have pierced’ (§1432). A good idea might be to keep an image of Christ crucified nearby throughout your day, reflecting on it often. Each time you look at it, pray for the grace of understanding and the grace to fall in love with Christ crucified.
3. Stations of the Cross prayer journal: Prayer journals don’t work for everyone, but taking an imaginative approach to prayer might. When meditating on one of the Stations of the Cross, try and write the story from someone else’s perspective – maybe someone in the crowd, or one of the Roman soldiers, or one of the disciples, or yourself. Using your imagination in prayer with Scripture is a staple in the Ignatian tradition. It might help you connect with the themes of Lent more deeply.
4. Pray the Liturgy of the Hours: Dietrich von Hildebrand once said that ‘the Liturgy is Christ praying’. This is true for the Liturgy of the Mass but it is also true for the prayers of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy is Christ praying to the Father. If you want to get more in touch with Christ, then pray the prayers He is praying through the Church.
5. Take up a daily Examen: The daily Examen is also a staple in the Ignatian tradition, an opportunity to search our minds and hearts at the end of the day and become more aware of God’s presence, where He's been active and where He's taking us. It's also an opportunity for honest conversation. Here’s an easy how-to-guide.
1. 40 Day purge: Each day of Lent, pick something you own that can be given away, and then give it away however you choose. This will be a real test of attachment to material goods.
2. Invest in projects that align with our values: Becoming a patron of the arts doesn't sound very almsgiving-y, but we all know artists are poor and struggling. As an additional almsgiving practice, seek out an artistic or business project that aligns with your values and vision and see what you can do to help.
3. Give time in service: Fr Gustavo Gutierrez famously said, ‘So, you love the poor? Name them.’ Instead of simply giving money online, a good way of working towards a more human world is to get involved; seek out a local charity, organisation or project, and offer a helping hand. Be present, not just an anonymous donor.
4. Secret Santa – but Lenten: Gift-giving doesn't have to stay confined to Christmas. If there are people in your life who you think could benefit from an anonymous, meaningful gift, just do it. But remember: Stay anonymous. It's for your own humility.
5. Good Samaritan bags: Another idea is to keep some shopping bags in the car filled with non-perishables or reusable items, and give them out to people you think might need them. Or, fill them with stuff the homeless can eat without needing to cook and give it to them personally. They'll probably appreciate it.
It’s harder for fasting to be ‘unconventional’, but here are some things to think about.
1. Fast from speaking: It was Fr Josh Johnson who mentioned this one, and he’s right. In the modern world we are trained to give our opinions so quickly. We are trained to disagree and put people down, to care more about the argument than the person. This Lent, apply the principles of Lectio Divina to your conversations; actually think about what people are saying, meditate on it, take it to prayer. Above all, we should learn to listen to the person in front of us before we speak to them.
2. Fast from phone-use in the presence of other people: We all know this is a problem. Learning to be present to other people in the age of technology is really important. Maybe try disciplining your use of the old cellular device in front of others. One of the reasons God called His people out of Egypt was to break their attachments and addictions to the false gods of Egypt. Lent can be that journey for us, too. We’re far more enslaved to technology than we realise.
3. Fast from social media: This is harder for those people whose work involves social media, but social media is one of those things that feeds off of our weaknesses by its very nature. Try taking a step back from social media this Lent, see if it frees up your mind and emotions to be a little less fragmented.
4. Fast from basic luxuries: Whether this is giving up warm showers, pillows, beds, etc., there are some luxuries that are more basic than others. Some luxuries (like sweets) are not basic luxuries because we don’t need them, strictly speaking. Other things we need a bit more – like our pillow. If you want to do something a bit more ascetical, something that really tests you, try giving up something you take for granted. Maybe that means fasting from sitting down during prayer! A Lent spent on our knees might do us all some good!
5. Bring back Wednesdays and Fridays: In the early Church, fasting wasn’t just on Fridays. It was Wednesdays too. Maybe this Lent, do the same fasting and abstinence you would for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday for every Wednesday and Friday. And offer it up for a specific prayer intention.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli06 March 2022
Melbourne Catholic24 February 2022