Discernment during Lent, season of spiritual maintenance
I have been thinking about a word to capture what Lent means to me, and the one word that keeps popping up into my head is “maintenance.” We do maintenance work on our cars or bikes to make sure everything is working properly and in a sense, that is what Lent is about — getting us back into working order.
Lent is an important time for spiritual maintenance. Of course, every single day is a good time to do maintenance work on our spiritual lives, but that does not usually happen. So, Lent is a special time because it gives us this wonderful opportunity to finally start doing that maintenance work on our spiritual lives that we have been postponing. Lent is a good time to pause to think about our behaviors and actions that separate us from God and disappoint or hurt other people. Lent is a good time to ask God to forgive us for the wrongs that we have done to others. Lent is a good time to ask God to help us make a fresh start and to become better people.
During this time your discernment might benefit from some needed maintenance work too, Lent helps you to focus on that work.
First, you have to pay attention to your prayer. Prayer is your daily chat with God. I have good friends that I communicate with by phone, or e-mails or text messages, regularly. We keep in touch because we know that’s how we stay good friends. You need to do maintenance work on your prayer life if you want to stay connected with God. It is a very simple equation: The more you pray, the closer you grow to God; the less you pray, the more you find yourself doing what you should not be doing and become miserable, guilty and unhappy in the process.
Secondly, you have to pay attention to your tendencies to fill up your life with all kinds of things that you do not really need. That is what it means to give something up for Lent. Giving something up is not just about food. It is also about giving up those stereotypes you have about other people, those bad jokes you say about others, the gossiping you say to your friends, the talking behind their back. Fasting is not just giving something up. Fasting is also about doing something more. It is about being more generous, going to Mass more frequently, or practicing random acts of kindness. Part of the maintenance work you do on your spiritual lives is cleaning up the clutter and making room for God. The more room you have for God, the better person you will become, the happier person you will be.
Finally, you have to pay attention to your tendencies to be selfish and individualistic. You need to be generous. That is what almsgiving means. Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl is one example most of us are familiar with. When you give something to the Rice Bowl, to Glenmary or to any charity you are helping poor people around the world. Of course, almsgiving is not just about loose coins you put into the Rice Bowl. Most importantly, almsgiving is about generously giving and sharing your “time” and talents with others.
When you take the time to visit your grandparents if they are in the nursing home, when you take the time to help, when you volunteer at school or in church, when you share your talents, you are answering that Lenten call to give alms. Part of the maintenance work you do on your spiritual lives is making sure that you get rid of our selfishness and become more generous to others.
Doing a maintenance check on these three Lenten practices truly helps your discernment. As you begin that endeavor and hopefully continue throughout Lent, I invite you to make a Come and See Mission Trip a part of your Lenten journey. It is a great way to learn about Glenmary life and ministry and see how our missioners practice these same virtues of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Wilmar Zabala is Glenmary's vocation counselor. He can be reached via at 513-881-7410 or by email.