It’s so strange to think back to Ash Wednesday of last year. I went to Mass in the morning with my family, hurried off to ballet, came home for school, sang at ANOTHER Mass with my Schola Cantorum, then hurried off for more ballet rehearsal, my forehead covered with burnt palms. Who knew that a matter of weeks later, going to just one Mass or ballet class would become unthinkable?
Our lives have changed drastically since Ash Wednesday of last year. And yet the same God who encountered us then yearns to draw our hearts to Himself again this Lent. No matter what darkness surrounds us, in the Liturgical year, we hear the voice of the Father calling to His children year in and year out, beckoning for us to fall more profoundly prostrate in filial trust and love. At this time of the year, Christians begin to ask what they should “do” for Lent. But the question should really be, “What posture should I take and what should I consume or fast from so that I can most keenly see what Christ has done and is doing for me?”
This blog post is mostly one long, categorized list, but the simultaneously brutal and freeing truth is that if Lent is a check-list, we’re doing it wrong. I encourage you to read through these suggestions for Lent in a period of prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament. Be not afraid to follow the Holy Spirit’s Will this Lent like never before!
For reference, the categories on this list are as follows:
- Pleasures from which to fast
- Bad habits/sins from which to fast
- Ways to pray this Lent
- Fictional books fitting for Lent
- Books of the Bible that are fitting for Lent
- Spiritual reading that is fitting for Lent
- Memoirs for Lent
- Movies/TV to watch during Lent
- Ways to give alms
Pleasures from which to fast
Examine: What do I turn to for comfort or pleasure rather than turning to the Lord? What is keeping me from having time for prayer or distracting me from Christ’s voice that calls at every moment of the day?
- Snacking between meals
- Comfort food
- Social media
- Audio in the car
- Unnecessary internet
- Constantly checking notifications on phone
- Drinks other than water
- The snooze button
- Hot showers
- Spending unnecessary money
Bad habits/sins from which to fast
Examine: What bad habit, vice, or sin can I focus on rooting out over the next 46 days with the help of the Holy Spirit?
19. Negative self-talk
20. Excessively worrying about the opinions of others
22. Yelling at others
24. Excessive intake of media (books, music, movies, videos, etc.) that is dark, pessimistic, or explicit
25. Staying up too late
26. Excessive self-comparison with others
28. Vocational Discernment (This isn’t a bad thing at all, so it’s not really in the right category. But even goods can become idols. Sometimes the best way to learn God’s will is to stop seeking His will and start seeking Him without any strings attached. Your soulmate, seminary, or monastery will still be there on Easter, I promise.)
Ways to pray
Examine: What’s a specific area of my relationship with God that needs growth? How can I grow in radical friendship with Him over this liturgical season?
29. Go. To. Confession.
30. Go to daily Mass
31. Make a weekly Holy Hour
32. Spend time in silence every day. Start with one minute and then add one minute every day.
33. Read (or listen to!) Scripture every day
34. Pray the Stations of the Cross daily
35. Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy daily
36. Pray the Rosary daily
37. Write one thing that you’re grateful for every day
38. Pray with the daily Mass readings
39. Do a 33 day consecration and take advantage of the extra days in Lent for when you fall behind
40. Pick one area of the Faith that you need to grow in your understanding of or love for. Is it the Eucharist, God the Father, the Holy Spirit, Jesus the Healer, Jesus the Bridegroom, Mary, Church apologetics? Delve into that relationship or aspect of the Faith over the course of Lent.
41. Start spiritual direction
Fictional books fitting for Lent
Examine: How can the gift of my imagination help me to fall in love with God and repent of my sins?
42. The Lord of the Rings
43. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
44. The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy
45. The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis
46. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
47. The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
48. Perelandra, C.S. Lewis
49. Fine, anything by C.S. Lewis
50. Leaf by Niggle, J.R.R. Tolkien
51. Father Elijah, Michael O’Brien
52. The Tale of the Three Trees
53. Amon’s Adventure, Arnold Ytreeide
54. The Song at the Scaffold, Gertrude von Le Fort
Books of the Bible:
Examine: What is a book of the Bible that I haven’t read or that I think God is asking me to re-encounter? What aspect of God’s heart does the Holy Spirit want to reveal to me this Lent through Sacred Scripture?
55. Exodus (You are the Israelites, Pharaoh is Satan, Egypt is sin)
56. Leviticus (not just for the drudgery; it really gives insights into Christ the perfect Victim and foreshadows the Eucharist and the Mass)
61. The Song of Songs (read the part of the Husband as if Christ is speaking these words to you from His Cross)
63. The Gospels
Examine: How can this reading help me to become a Saint? What book would help me meditate on Christ’s passion and His unfathomable love on the Cross? What do I need to learn about living as a holy person in the 21st century? Is there a spirituality in the Church that I would like to dive into this Lent?
68. The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Bl. Ann Catherine Emmerich
69. I Will Think of Everything. You, Think Only of Loving Me, Published by the Children of Mary
70. Divine Mercy in My Soul, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska
71. 33 Days to Merciful Love, Fr. Michael Gaitley
72. Fire Within, Thomas Dubay
73. Captivating, John and Stasi Eldredge
74. Ascent of Mount Carmel, St. John of the Cross
75. The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila
76. The Story of a Soul, St. Therese of Lisieux
77. The Fourth Cup, Scott Hahn
78. Who Does He Say that You Are? Colleen Mitchell
79. The Way of a Pilgrim, Anonymous
78. Confessions, St. Augustine
81. How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul, Jason and Crystalina Evert
82. Go Bravely, Emily Wilson
83. Emotional Virtue, Sarah Swafford
84. I Believe in Love, Fr. Jean C J D’Elbee
Examine: How do the witnesses of other Christians call me to deeper conversion and dependence on Christ? Where am I being called to forgive and to radically trust in Jesus?
76. Left to Tell, Immaculee Ilibagiza
77. Unplanned, Abby Johnson
Movies/TV to Watch:
Examine: How can I use the media to grow in virtue rather than vice? How does the art of film allow me to witness the beauty of the common human experience? How can I find the story of salvation and Christ’s passion and death even in secular film?
78. The Passion of the Christ
79. Mary of Nazareth
81. The Lord of the Rings
84. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
85. The Chosen
Ways to Give Alms
Examine: How can I grow in truly giving of myself, even to the point of personal inconvenience or suffering? Am I too lenient with myself when it comes to financial and physical service? How can I follow in the footsteps of the Master and give until it hurts? How can I be a steward of my time, talent, and treasure this Lent?
86. Tithe more of your income than usual (or start tithing)
87. Pick one item from your bedroom to give away for every day of Lent
88. Write letters to friends and family
89. Invite others to meet for coffee (or some covid-friendly way of interaction)
90. Don’t buy unnecessary things for yourself (Starbucks, more clothes, candy, alcohol, etc.) and give the money you would usually spend on those things to charity
91. Practice one of your God-given gifts every day (write, practice an instrument, sew, build, etc.)
92. Schedule a time for volunteer work every week
93. Pray at your local 40 Days for Life vigil in front of Planned Parenthood
94. Find an extra way to be involved in your parish
95. Pick one member of your family or household every week and find ways to love them according to their love language (gift giving, quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service)
96. Pick one human rights issue (abortion, hunger, human trafficking, etc.). Learn about this issue to the point that you can educate others, intentionally pray and fast for this issue, donate money to organizations that fight this issue, and find concrete ways to volunteer in this issue.
97. Do a family member’s chores for them
98. Use your talents or hobbies for charity (knit baby hats for a crisis pregnancy center, write letters to the imprisoned, volunteer in music ministry)
99. Write a letter or make a meal for your parish priest
100. Make a complete gift of yourself and don’t use your phone while talking to others (even on Zoom when you can hide it)