Although we have been observing Lent for more than three weeks now, it is not too late to begin spiritual and corporal acts of penance as we make this 40-day journey to the glories of Easter.
The law of abstinence – abstaining from meat on the Fridays of Lent - guides us during this season of penance. And, while the law of fasting – eating only one meal and two smaller meals – applies only to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we can make every Friday or even every day of Lent, a day of fasting and abstinence.
Daily reading the Bible can enhance our observance of Lent. Both the Old and New Testament are wonderful sources of strength and inspiration as we offer atonement and prepare to worthily celebrate the resurrection of Christ. It was once said that the entire fabric of history was cut in two by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, most of the world measures time (despite the debates as to the accuracy of the years) counted from the birth of Jesus.
Perhaps we can read the Old Testament – especially Psalms, Wisdom and Lamentations – during Lent, and concentrate on the New Testament during the 50 days after Easter.
Reading the Bible is a form of prayer. It can help in our determination to do penance. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 1430, says that penance “... does not aim first at outward works, ‘sackcloth and ashes,’ fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion.”
The catechism also tells us, in paragraph 1434,that “the interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others.”
We still have time to make this season one of spiritual growth and renewal, and we can start today. Reading the Bible daily, attending Mass more than just on Sunday, praying the rosary, and other spiritual acts can help prepare our hearts and souls for Easter.
We can donate our time and our money to one of the many splendid Catholic agencies which reach out and assist the poor, the marginalized, the neglected. We can also make a pilgrimage. In the Washington area, we can make pilgrimages to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Franciscan Monastery or the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. A little further away is the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore, or Mount St. Mary’s and the Shrine of Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg.
And, most importantly, we can pray. Many parishes offer Stations of the Cross during Lent. There is also plenty of opportunity to make Holy Hours of Reparation before the Most Blessed Sacrament. With just a little thought and effort, there is still time to make our observance of Lent exactly what the catechism said it should be, “intense moments of penitential practice.”