Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
Another Lent is here. I’ll skip the usual pre-Lent, “if you didn’t plan,” talk and get straight to the help. You need a pre-Lent checklist and you need some practical advice. Don’t fret—I’ve got you covered.
Find something to give up
Lent is our special season of penance. It’s about sacrifice, directing our attention and devotion to honoring Christ, who willingly sacrificed himself for our benefit. It doesn’t have to be overly austere, it doesn’t have to be unique: it can be something you’ve given up each Lent and it can be something simple. A good rule of measure is to give up something that you depend on, like a craving, or an item of efficiency, or a habitual act. Remember: you’re not giving up something that’s already sinful—you should give that up forever. In the past, I’ve given up my pillow, my snooze button, all alcohol, and bubble baths (just kidding, I'd never give that up). Take note of these things in your life, and choose one or multiple things to give up. If you can’t think of anything, take this quiz I made.
Something to take on
Many Catholics also choose, in addition to giving something up (but not as a substitution), taking on a specific act or devotion. Giving alms, volunteering, time in adoration, devotion to the Rosary, or recitation of the Divine Mercy chaplet are all common and encouraged. Be prayerful and open to the addition of a corporeal or spiritual work of mercy during Lent.
Go on a pilgrimage
No, I’m not insisting you book a trip for the Holy Land or Assisi (although those are certainly worthwhile destinations). You might not realize that there are numerous pilgrimage destinations in your state and in the rest of the United States. I put together a huge list of suggestions for this very purpose.
Don’t schedule that burgers and beer night at your house if you’re going meat-free! Friday’s of Lent, you’re obliged to abstain from meats, so think twice before you RSVP for the Friday steak dinner. Whatever it is, whatever you need to plan, plan ahead.
Get to the Stations
Stations of the Cross remains a potent ritual for reflecting on Our Lord’s Passion and sacrifice, particularly during Lent. Again, this requires planning ahead of time, but also managing expectations. I know you want to watch that hockey game that starts at 6 p.m., but you’re going to have to make sacrifices in order to make the Stations. Let your family know that you’ll be at Stations every Friday, so as to help them clear their schedules, too.
Don’t pig out
That local fish fry is a great opportunity for fellowship, and is a positive fund raiser as well. But remember Lent is a season of penance and eating fish is commemorative of the sacrificial context of the season. Therefore, even though that beer-battered halibut and the fried flouder are scrumptious, don’t gorge yourself in a gluttonous feast. Be solemn, be sacrificial, be penitential. It may feel more like the “feast” from the movie Hook, but you’ll live, and you’ll be happier when you’re in synch with the Church’s special season.
Also if possible, try these things if they fit your unique situation: daily Mass, daily Rosary with your children, venerating relics and iconography in your area, less TV, less social media or screen time, more family time, and daily prayer with your spouse.
If you’re lost about Lent, check out these facts. There’s a lot of choices and a lot of room for judgment, but your basic orientation should always be prayer, sacrifice, and almsgiving. Focus on these things and Easter will be, hands down, the best day of the entire year.