Lent Liturgical Year Spiritual Growth Victoria K

The Year I Did NOTHING For Lent

How I gave up nothing, took on nothing…and left everything to the Lord.

I Did Nothing for Lent


My Plan for an All-Star Lent

It was Lent 2014. I was a college junior, diving into my faith after my “reversion” (I’m a cradle Catholic, but my faith was rekindled that previous summer). Before my re-version, Catholicism for me had been a series of doctrines and dogmas (and man was I good at following rules…and forcing them on other people!). Even after the re-version, I was slow in adjusting from a faith that was only based on rules to a faith based on a loving relationship with Christ. So, in preparation for Lent 2014, I sauntered confidently into my meeting with my spiritual director. With me, I carried an organized, bullet-point list of everything I planned to do for Lent.

No listening to music or podcasts.

Volunteering once a week.

Rosary every day.

A scriptural reflection throughout Lent.

No gossiping.

Daily Mass.

No snacks between meals.

No sweets.

I kid you not I had fully planned to do each and every one of those things. And would have, too. My spiritual director, a sweet little nun with a big smile and a quiet voice, read through the list thoughtfully. “Yes, Victory” (her very endearing nickname for me) “this is very good.” I beamed, confident in my all-star plan for Lent. “But…” (oh no, the dreaded but) “…but you’re not going to do any of this.” Straining to be humble, or at least not freak out, I replied: “Oh. What would you like me to do then, Sister?” She was quiet for a moment, reading through the list again. “Victory, I’d like you to do nothing for Lent.”


Nothing! The voice screamed in my head. I must’ve asked her twenty times just to clarify. You don’t want me to give up anything? Take on something? What about prayer, fasting, almsgiving? This went against literally everything I’d ever known about Catholicism since 1st grade CCD? I didn’t even think it was acceptable to do nothing (definitely talk this over with a spiritual director before you try this at home). But she was completely serious. Nothing.

We set up the parameters: I was to keep up my normal prayer, volunteer, and worship schedule. I was still to abstain from meat on Fridays. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, I wasn’t to cut anything out of the two small meals or one big meal. I was to do the bare minimum and nothing extra. It was…horrible. Everyone else would discuss the struggle and the sacrifice of what they gave up. What could I say? Oh, I gave up nothing? I told only a few people about it, and even then it was humiliating. “Oh you got it easy,” they would say, “I’m so jealous.” And that’s what I hated! I was taking the easy way out. I felt that Christ suffered and died for us, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Christ Gives Us Everything

I carried these feelings all the way through Lent. I would e-mail Sister weekly, asking her what this was accomplishing. She just advised me to continue to pray about it. God gave me no clarity at all about it. My soul was in darkness until Good Friday. I had just knelt down to venerate the cross, kissing the feet of Jesus and felt that had been my only act of love for Christ that whole Lent. Upon returning to my pew, I knelt down. A couple of thin tears fell down my cheeks (I’m not much of a crier, so this was a big deal).

There was my God, my Savior, and King, and all I could give Him was nothing. This whole Lent, I had given nothing. But, even through this, even when my own voice cried out “Crucify Him!”, He gave me everything. My life, my vocation, my talents—but most importantly, His own Life so that I could be with Him. Whatever I did or gave (or lack thereof) could not change His free, incredible gift.

It was in that powerful moment that I came to an incredible realization. Following the “rules” of Lent (prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) can be incredibly important, but it’s not the important thing. I found, through doing nothing for Lent, that Lent was really about letting Christ love me. Opening my heart to His Sacrifice and letting Him love me through it. The next time I met with Sister, my tail was between my legs…she had been totally right.

I pray so much, sisters, that you all are able to abandon yourself to the God Who gives us everything—even when we can give Him nothing.

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Ten Ways to Grow in Holiness Today

1. Give God the start and/or the end of your day. Make a decision to get up 30 minutes earlier in the morning to pray and read your Scriptures or start your evening routine 30 minutes earlier so you’re in bed talking to God and the saints before you’re too tired to think.

What my daughter made me instead of cleaning up her messy room. What's cleanliness compared a cool alien Christmas picture?
What my daughter made me instead of cleaning up her messy room. What’s cleanliness compared a cool alien Christmas picture?

2. Choose to believe the best about someone who slights you, lets you down, or hurts your feelings. If your husband forgets to take the trash out and you have to in the dark at 20 below, it’s because he’s selfish and doesn’t care about you. If your kids leave their socks on the floor, it’s because they’re disrespectful. If your friend forgets the anniversary of your miscarriage, it’s because she’s self-absorbed. Choose instead–consciously, deliberately–to believe that your husband was exhausted after work, which is why he forgot to take out the trash. Or that your child choose the better path by making you a Christmas alien picture (true story) instead of cleaning. Or that your friend is probably just overwhelmed by everything on her own plate. Even if you have those initially uncharitable thoughts, redeem them by giving people the benefit of the doubt. Love is a choice, not a feeling.

3. Sacrifice a sensual pleasure that you enjoy. For me, I’d sincerely rather have a root canal (and I’ve had four) than give up my morning coffee. What’s your pleasure? Chocolate, a cup of tea in the afternoons, watching your favorite sitcom or drama? Sacrifice it and watch yourself take one step closer to being free of earthly attachments.

4. Stop by any Catholic church that’s open, pop in, and say hello to Jesus in the tabernacle. During a recent discussion about Marian apparitions, a man on Facebook said pointedly, “Jesus sits alone in tabernacles everywhere, yet people spend thousands of dollars and copious time running around the world in search of miracles.” So what if you only have five minutes (or two) to spend before the Blessed Sacrament? As beautiful and precious as it is to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, the beauty of adoration is that we offer praise and love to God without expecting anything in return.

5. Let one household chore go and spend that time instead with your spouse, children, or family member. Last night I sat on the couch with my family and watched an episode of Murdoch Mysteries. I did that despite the fact that our living room and kitchen were a wreck and I thrive psychologically on order. I knew it was the right decision when my daughter cuddled up to me and said, “It’s so weird to just sit here with you, because you never just sit down. You’re always such a busy bee, Mom.”

6. Suffer with Jesus–and with Jesus alone. We all have those moments each day when the body gives out. Instead of complaining and calling attention to your headache or fatigue, offer it to Jesus as a way of suffering in union with Him on the Cross–silently, as He did. God, after all, is outside of time and as we witness each Mass, Christ’s sacrifice is eternal. Show Jesus you have compassion for Him (which means “to suffer with”) by sacrificing the sympathy and accommodation that would come from complaining about your difficulties. Imitate Him and in doing so, share in His Passion in your own tiny way. 

7. Memorize a Bible verse. For the novice, there’s this short list from A Catholic Notebook. Like a challenge? Order 150 Bible Verses Every Catholic Should Know by Patrick Madrid. (There’s even a Kindle version so you can get started today). Maybe one day you’ll be as impressive as these nuns, who “whooped” a group of Protestant men on Jeff Foxworthy’s “American Bible Challenge” TV show. (Watch the video; it’s worth the 90 seconds.)

8. Befriend one new saint. It would be rude to ask a person for a favor before you know him, so take five minutes and introduce yourself to a new saint today through Catholic Online’s exhaustive list. If you’re quirky like me, you’ll gravitate toward the patrons of unusual causes, such as St. Gertrude of Nivelles, who can help you with your fear of mice, or St. Polycarp, patron against dysentery (which is definitely scarier than mice). Want to guard your children against the culture’s moral decline? Then befriend St. Fiacre, the patron of sexually transmitted diseases. We’re blessed with countless heavenly brothers and sisters who are anxious to help us get to heaven. So get to know more of them!

9. Do something nice for someone you can’t stand. (Or who just gets on your nerves.) Send him a nice email or drop a card in the mail to her. Take her dinner, if you can swing it. If you want to make it extra sacrificial, arrange to spend time with the person. Even if the person is so toxic you can’t have her in your life, you can always pray for her or have a Mass offered for him. (I’ll be taking a batch of cookies over to Alec Baldwin later.)

10. Give alms. Thanks to debit cards and the Internet, you can donate to a worthy cause in five minutes without even leaving your house. (And in pajamas, at that.) It doesn’t need to be substantial; most charities are grateful for even the smallest donation. Can’t spare even a few bucks? Go through your pantry and donate a few canned or boxed goods. Go through your stash of baby items and donate a bag of extras to the local pregnancy center. Purge extra clothes from the closet and donate them to a charitable thrift shop. When you’re done, put the bag in the front seat of your car so you won’t forget to deliver it the next time you’re running errands.

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Your Handy-Dandy List to Lenten Sacrifices

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and most of us have already been asked (or have asked) the question of the season: What are you giving up? Many of us may have been caught off guard by the question.

Lent? Already? It’s still January!

February just started!

Um … when is Lent this year?

Yep, it’s definitely coming around a tad early this year!

But you don’t have to only “give something up” for Lent. It’s certainly a good idea to do that, but you can offer up other sacrifices instead of or in addition to giving something up. What we need to remember is that the whole point of Lent is to remind us of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. It’s a time of sacrifice and penance, a time to unite our sufferings with the crucified Christ, and a time to deepen our relationship with Christ. When we give something up for Lent it should be something that truly feels like a sacrifice. For some people, giving up something may not truly be a sacrifice, but adding something to their day, especially something spiritual, is what they need to grow deeper in their faith. That sacrifice of time can be a biggy for many of us.

In the spirit of growing deeper in our faith and our relationship with Christ, I asked friends on Facebook, checked out some blog posts, and came up with a list of Lenten sacrifices to give us all some ideas for this Lenten season. This list still contains the traditional “giving something up” items, but goes a step further as well with things you can add to your daily routine and other types of sacrifices you can make individually or as a family.

If you’re like me and haven’t yet made a commitment to something yet, I hope this list helps you out. Just remember, whatever you do, it should be something that brings you closer to Jesus Christ.

Things to give up

  • No TV and/or video games
  • Do a computer fast or replace a certain amount of time on the computer with time playing with the kids
  • Give up Facebook
  • Give up all drinks except water or give up a particular drink (coffee, soda, wine, etc.)
  • Forego sugar in your coffee or tea, or better yet, give up the coffee entirely. Another option, give up the drive-thru for coffee on your way to work each day and make and take your own.
  • Give up whining and/or complaining, raising your voice, laziness, impatience, etc.
  • Give up some sort of “convenience” item like prepared foods, the dishwasher, or paper towels/napkins
  • Forego hair products, make-up, nail polish, etc. Basically no primping during Lent.
  • Give up eating out and doing take out and donate the money saved to charity
  • Forego listening to music in the car
  • Give up chocolate, desserts, and/or candy
  • No hot showers
  • Give up the “snooze” button on the alarm clock
  • Give up lights in the evening after the kids are in bed, use only candlelight
  • For more ideas on what to give up for Lent this year check out the links here and here and here.

Things you can add

  • Prayer: Add in an extra block of time in your day for prayer. Doesn’t have to be long, 15 minutes is good, longer if you can do it.
  • Add in a daily Rosary if it’s not something you already do or the Divine Mercy Chaplet or a novena (or two or three)
  • Lent is often a good time to add in doing the Way of the Cross devotion.
  • Replace one snack a day with a prayer instead
  • Read the Bible and/or memorize a Bible verse each week
  • Add in extra reading for you or the whole family (reading aloud as a family is a great idea!)
  • Listen to some good Catholic podcasts. Fr. Z even has some podcasts geared specifically toward Lent and Holy Week over on his blog. Find more podcasts over at SQPN.
  • Add in some extra days of fasting from food beyond those that are already required. You could also consider this a “giving up” item as well.
  • Go to Daily Mass each week, even just one extra Mass a week can make a difference in your relationship with Our Lord. Try for all 40 days of Lent if you can.
  • Make a list of 40 people who have touched your life in some way and write each one of them a letter during Lent letting them know why they are special in your life. Take some time that day to pray for them as well. You can also get the whole family involved in this project, check out how this family does this each lent.
  • Read the daily Mass readings
  • Go to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. If you already go to Adoration, add in an extra time slot for it during the week.
  • Go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation weekly
  • Do a random act of kindness every day
  • Participate in the Sistas’ 2014 Lenten photo challenge
  • A lenten journal put together by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist
  • Rent movies through this new Catholic “netflix” type service!
  • Lenten reflections with Father Barron

Other Types of Sacrifices

  • Instead of buying bread, make all your own bread at home. Or, in this same vein, are there other ways you can provide for your family at home instead of buying something at the store?
  • Instead of pants, try wearing skirts for all of Lent. Here’s a site that may give you some inspiration or help along the way.
  • You know that sin (or sins) that you seem to have to confess over and over again? How about working to not have to confess that sin during Lent?
  • How about sleeping on the floor during Lent instead of your bed. There’s a convenience that’s a big sacrifice! Or, if you’re not ready to give up your bed entirely, how about giving up your pillow for all of Lent?
  • A friend of mine once told me that he put a pebble in his shoe for several days while a friend of his was on a retreat. It as a constant reminder to him to pray for his friend. Why not try this during Lent?
  • Practice silence: one day a week, each night after the kids are in bed, etc. Silence is important to our spiritual growth in the midst of our noisy world, the Pope tells us.
  • Park in the last spot at the shopping center or at work and say a prayer as you walk in and walk back to your car when you leave.
  • Buy a pair of used shoes from Goodwill and wear them every day of Lent.
  • 40 Bags for 40 Days: fill up 40 bags of stuff you don’t need and toss it or donate it. It’s a good sacrificing way to take an honest look at whether you REALLY need something.
  • Volunteer! Check with your parish, the diocese, local organizations, or organizations like Volunteer Match or Volunteer Guide.
  • Check out the “pins” on the Catholic Sistas’ Pinterest Board for Lent for more Lenten inspiration.

And if you want some help keeping track of your Lenten sacrifice this year, check out the Lenten Sacrifices Cross available at Casia Books, it’s something the whole family could do. Or check out the Lenten cross from this post here from this morning.

Whatever you decide to do during Lent just remember the whole reason why we live in this desert of 40 days. We are uniting our sufferings with Jesus’ and we will celebrate his resurrection with great joy on Easter Sunday when it is all over. And if we are successful and stick to our plans, it will be a sweet joy indeed!

Just don’t try to overdo it or take on too much but do try to be intentional with whatever it is you choose to do.

What are you doing for Lent this year?

Faith Formation Ink Slingers Lent Liturgical Year Michelle

Doing Small Things With Great Love: A Lenten Sacrifice

 We have officially entered into the season of Lent.  What a beautiful time of year this is!  During lent we focus on prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial.  It’s a very holy time of year.  One that we should all look forward to with great longing.  It is the time of year where we begin to prepare for the single most amazing gift that we have been given by our Eternal Father… the gift of everlasting life through the sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ.   Without this sacrifice we would be but poor lost souls.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday.  We go to Mass and receive ashes on our foreheads.  These ashes are an outward sign of our penitence and of our desire to be forgiven of our sins, to strive to walk closer with God, and to become the Christians that Christ calls us to be.   All that we do should help us realign ourselves with God and with His plan for our lives… that is, to become holy men and women of God.   It seems like such a daunting task, doesn’t it?

Perhaps during Lent the first thing that comes to your mind is “What am I going to give up?”  ” What am I going to sacrifice?”  This is a natural first question since we are supposed to be focusing on giving up those things that separate us from Christ and His love.  We are often so encumbered by “things” in our life that Lent provides the perfect opportunity to “give up” those things and draw deeper into prayer, bible study, spiritual reflection, and forgiveness.  It is a beautiful aspect of Lent, but it is not enough.

During Lent we should be focusing on preparing ourselves for Christ’s greatest sacrifice and for our gift of eternal life.  However, we can’t do this just through focusing on ourselves.  If we do, we don’t do justice to Christ’s sacrifice for us.  Instead, in addition to our self-denial, our digging deeper into our own faith and spirituality, we must focus on doing for others as well.  If Christ sacrificed for us, shouldn’t we follow in his footsteps and sacrifice for others as well?

Many times we overlook the aspect of almsgiving when we think of Lent.  What is almsgiving?  Almsgiving is often times just viewed as how much you donate to your church at Offertory.  However, almsgiving is much more than this.  We are asked to not only give of our material means but of our time and talent as well.   We are to give of ourselves in the best way we are able, for some this will be money, for others it will be our time.   We are reminded that it isn’t so much how much we put in or give but in what manner we give it.  We are to be like the widow in Luke 21:1-4 who put in just two coins for her offering… it wasn’t much, but it was a true sacrifice.

So how can we incorporate this idea into our Lenten season?  How can we grow closer to Christ through almsgiving?  As Blessed Mother Teresa says, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”  Our almsgiving doesn’t have to be elaborate or big but it should be sincere and from the heart.  It should be a true sacrifice.   What can we do to show Christ’s love to others?

We can:

  • Offer a rosary for someone in need
  • Give a sincere smile at someone who looks like they might be having a bad day
  • Pray for someone who has hurt you
  • Say thank you to someone who has done something that has made a difference in your life
  • Offer to help someone to give them a break
  • Commit to doing one act of kindness a day for someone random
  • Go to Adoration and sit with our Lord
  • Offer up your hurts, your struggles, your temptations, your worries for soneone you know who is struggling too
  • Try to go to weekly Mass
  • Turn off your t.v. or computer and spend time with your family or a friend instead
  • Likewise, turn off your t.v. or computer and take the opportunity to pray
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen, a pregnancy resource center or the St. Vincent de Paul Society
  • Stop to talk to the homeless person you see each day, if you can’t offer him a meal, offer him your prayers and a hug
  • Donate to a women’s or homeless shelter

Almsgiving is so much more than just giving our money.  While that aspect of almsgiving is so important, it is also important that we focus on the other aspect… giving of ourselves to others so that they may see Christ reflected in our eyes and our actions.   As Christ says in Matthew 25:40 “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”  As we give to others, we grow closer to Christ, our ultimate goal during the Lenten season.

Blessed Mother Teresa said, “The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.”  This Lenten season, as we focus on our journey to grow closer to Christ, let us remember that as we pray, fast, reflect and repent that all we do during this time should be a reflection of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us.  One that will bring us eternal life and peace with Him.

What other ways can you give to others to show Christ’s love?