I get to experience this Lent through the eyes of a new convert to the faith. Two of my friends, Riley and Nathan, are getting baptized at the Easter Vigil. They just radiate the joy of the Christian life, especially as they journey through their first Lent. Riley is a constant example of how to embrace Lent as a time of anticipation and preparation. He can hardly contain his excitement to receive the Eucharist for the first time. I’m always telling people that I wish I desired Jesus as much as Riley does. Nathan has also been a great reminder that Lent is a time for serving others, going out of his way to do good deeds (occasionally in the form of bringing donuts to his friends, a.k.a. feeding the hungry). However, the reality is that we don’t always feel the zeal and selflessness of these two baby Catholics. Sometimes, serving others in Lent is about simply showing up.
Showing Up in Prayer
First, we have to show up in prayer. Prayer is always the first step to serving others. It is the source of our strength and where we go to receive God’s love so that we can then give it to others. Without prayer, our works mean nothing. However, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always want to pray. Sometimes, I pray and feel nothing in return. More often than not, my daily prayer time turns into me wondering what I’m going to eat for dinner, even though it’s 8am. And that’s okay! The important thing is that I’m showing up, consistently every day. The Lord doesn’t care if we have the perfect prayer life or the perfect words to say. He simply asks us to be faithful.
So, my first challenge to you is to commit to praying the Prayer of Generosity each morning. Then, show up everyday, on the good days and the bad days. The Lord will allow your faithfulness to bear fruit in making you a more selfless servant of others.
Showing Up to our Own Suffering
Another important part of Lent is fasting (for a great explanation on why we fast check out this video from Fr. Mike Schmitz). Whether you’re giving up chocolate, Snapchat, etc., sometimes we tend to think fasting as just something we do for ourselves and for God. That’s awesome, but it can be so much more. Fasting can truly be a gift for others. As Catholics, we’re fond of the phrase, “offer it up”. That means offering our own suffering for the good of another. However, we can’t do that if we shy away from the discomfort of fasting. When we feel hunger on a day of fasting or crave meat on Good Friday, the easy thing is to distract ourselves from that feeling and hope it goes away, but we have to show up to our own sufferings. Instead of shying away from discomfort, we are called to lean in. We have to allow ourselves to embrace the fullness of our hunger or thirst or pain. When we do that, we can use our own suffering to meditate on Christ, uniting ourselves to Him on the cross.
Next time you feel discomfort in fasting, show up to your own suffering and offer it up for someone you know who struggles with the faith. Know that through your suffering, the Lord is allowing you to participate in the salvation of souls.
Showing Up to the Sufferings of Others
Finally, the call to almsgiving in Lent challenges us to show up to the sufferings of others. The same way that we can’t shy away from our own pain, we have to enter into other people’s mess. Put away your phone, turn off Netflix and be fully present to the people around you. We pass by Jesus in the face of the poor every day without even noticing because we’re looking down at our phones or distracted with a constant list of things to do. We can’t serve others in Lent if we don’t even notice them. Showing up is key; and I don’t mean showing up, but while looking at your phone every time it dings. When we are suffering, Jesus doesn’t look at us and say, “Oh yeah I’m sorry, I’ll get back to you when I’m done sending this text.” He gives us His full and undivided attention. We are called to look at the world through the heart of Christ and feel His compassion for the poor and suffering around us.
Serving others in Lent can be as simple as offering a listening ear or a smile, just to let someone know that their lives have value and that they are worth your time.
So, my final challenge is to put away any distractions when you are with people and to show up to the sufferings of others.
I pray that this Lenten season would be a time of growing in selflessness and service to others. Even when it’s hard, on the days when prayer is dry, or you’re craving for chocolate seems impossible to overcome, keep persevering and remember that there’s power in simply showing up.
If you feel ready to take it to the next level, I encourage you to put your almsgiving into action. If you don’t have money to give, you can always give your time. Click the button below to find a list of volunteer opportunities that will not only help you enter more deeply into the Lenten season, but will also provide an opportunity to directly serve those in need.