As Christians, it is our lifelong responsibility to strive to conform ourselves to Christ. The Church gives us the period of Lent as a time to concentrate more seriously on the practices that lead us to grow in discipleship and advance in the spiritual life. Below are ten forms of penance from the Christian tradition and what these might look like for you today.
1. Give up sin
This is straightforward; if it’s wrong, don’t do it! Discipline in the small things makes us strong for when we face bigger challenges. This is a time to clear up the seemingly inconsequential but sinful habits that have crept into your life – the white lies, taking things nobody will notice, overindulging, and spreading gossip.
Prayer is a conversation that requires both speaking and listening. If you tend to talk more than you listen, try silent meditation or adoration. If you get distracted on your own join the community for daily Mass or join a prayer or bible study group. Do you find yourself at a loss for words when it comes to prayer? Try memorization - a Psalm or one of the Gospel canticles from the Liturgy of the Hours makes a Scriptural prayer available to you at any time.
Intermittent fasting is all the rage. Put a spiritual focus on this latest diet trend. Instead of fasting to lose weight consider that fasting is an ancient tradition meant to strengthen the mind, the body, and one’s relationship with God. By limiting not only what but also when you eat, you put your trust in God rather than eating whenever you want or whenever food is around.
4. Do good works
Have your chronic sleep debt and busyness led you to let the little things slide? For the sake of others, clean up after yourself, unload the dishwasher at the office, and shovel the walk for your elderly neighbour. For the sake of the environment bring your own travel cup rather than use a disposable, skip the produce bags at the grocery, and iron and repair rather than dispose of and purchase fast fashion.
5. Give alms
How many times have you forgotten your offering envelope? Do you attend different parishes for Sunday Mass from week to week depending on your schedule? If you parish offers the service, consider signing up for direct debit so your gift is consistent. Many charities make it possible for you to make your gift automatic through a regular subscription. This kind of commitment increases your sense of belonging and makes it possible for organizations to plan their programming and services.
Did you know that throughout the year, all Catholics who are 14 years or older are obliged to abstain from meat on Fridays? It is permitted to substitute other good actions for abstinence from meat but that seems to have led many to forget the prescription altogether! In addition to abstaining from a desirable food for one or more days during the season, Lent is an excellent time to reclaim Fridays as the memorial of Christ’s saving death on the cross.
7. Carry out our duties of life
Do you sometimes turn down invitations to socialize or join a team, skip the gym, or can’t find time to make an ongoing volunteer commitment? It could be that you are already carrying out your duties of life! By contrast, if your primary responsibilities and relationships are suffering because you’re too busy with things on the periphery, it might be time to slow down and recalibrate.
8. Read deeply
Neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf has been researching how the brain develops different skills when reading in print than reading online. Online readers cover more content but they skim rather than read deeply. What does it matter? The online reader doesn’t “have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings, to perceive beauty, and to create thoughts of the reader’s own.” Reading a printed book over Lent can improve your concentration, remind you to think critically, and develop your empathy for others, all of which can help you become a better disciple.
9. Control desire for possessions
Marketing is all about psychology and the power of persuasion. In our social media age, sellers are called “influencers”. If you use social media, mute your favourite influencers and submit yourself to the influence of prayer instead.
10. Control Desire for entertainment
Entertainment often provides a welcome rest but today’s streaming services make distraction available any time all the time. Suspend, limit, or schedule your streaming so that entertainment does not drown out uncomfortable feelings that you could bring to God in prayer.
Written by Dr. Simone Brosig. (Adapted from https://nlo.cccb.ca/images/stories/Living_Lent.pdf).
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers