Keeping Lent Simple

***Short on time? Scroll to the bottom***

Happy Fat Tuesday! Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent.

I have a question. How would you respond if someone asked you “What is Lent?”

It is a season of penance marked by prayer, fasting and abstinence, and almsgiving.

Lent comes from “Lencten,” which means “spring!” It is referring to the lengthening of days before spring approaches.

Lent is a journey that leads us to the cross. We grow closer to Jesus by making sacrifices like He did, and we can come to know him by sharing in that.

The act of applying ashes to our forehead symbolizes our mortality. Fun fact: more people show up to Church on Ash Wednesday than any other day of the year, even though it’s not an obligation. So you might as well get your ash to Mass!

What do we do during Lent?

There are three spiritual disciplines during Lent to help us detach from the world and focus on God.

1. Prayer
2. Fasting and Abstinence
3. Almsgiving

1. Prayer

Reading more Scripture
You can text a different person each day asking if they need prayers for anything specific.
Stop by the chapel each day on your way home for five minutes. 
Do an examination of conscience each night. 
Go on a retreat. 
Join a Bible study.
While brushing your teeth you can say a Hail Mary. I usually get about five in. So by brushing my teeth in the morning and at night, that’s a decade of the Rosary! 

2. Fasting and Abstinence

Fasting means less food. Abstinence means no meat. 
On Ash Wednesday and Fridays we abstain from meat. 
On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday we fast (one big meal, and two small meals, no snacks, liquids are allowed at any time).

Abstinence from meat means meat from animals that live on land, such as cows, chickens, or pigs. Birds are also considered meat. Abstinence does not include meat juices or liquid foods made from meat. So foods such as broth, gravy, and condiments are technically not forbidden. So yes you can have ramen that day. However, moral theologians have traditionally taught to abstain from all animal-derived products (except foods such as butter, cheese, milk, and eggs, which do not have any meat taste.) Fish are a different category or animal. Fish, amphibians, reptiles, and shellfish are permitted. I personally like cheese pizza, grilled cheese and tomato soup, or mac and cheese. I love cheese.

Catholics 14+ are obliged to practice abstinence form meat. Catholics 18-58 are obliged to fast. Those outside the age limits and those in such a state of life (pregnant and nursing women, manual laborers, those who are physically or mentally ill, even those traveling) may be excused, but are encouraged to take up some other form of penitence or acts of charity or piety. Personally, being pregnant with hyperemesis and anemic issues, I will abstain from meat, but I will not be fasting. No one should jeopardize their health during Lent.

On top of this, other forms of fasting can include sweets, alcohol, Facebook, television, and the like.
You can pick 6 shirts and wear them all throughout Lent. Talk about living simply.
Give up makeup. (You save money doing this!!)
Give away something in your closet every week.
Check your phone only 3 times a day.
You could give up the saltshaker. 
Instead of giving up coffee, give up cream and sugar!
Give up music, or only listen to Classical or Christian music, or just cut out explicit songs from your playlists. 

3. Almsgiving

You make a swear jar or a burp jar and donate the funds to a charity. 
Some donate their time volunteering at a homeless shelter or visiting a nursing home.
Every time you buy a coffee, you can pretend you are buying someone else a coffee and throw $2-$5 down for charity or the next person in line.
Leave a post it note with a kind thought in every bathroom you visit.
Write letters to family members and friends. 
Call you mom once a week.
Call your grandma once a week.
Call me once a week.
Shovel someone’s sidewalk or driveway.
Surprise your roommate by doing their dishes.
Volunteer to read at Mass. 

Other thoughts

Christ spent 40 days in the desert praying and fasting to prepare for his ministry. We are imitating Jesus, with 40 days (not including Sundays) of prayer and fasting to prepare for the celebration of the Passion, Crucifixion, and most importantly, the Resurrection.

Fun fact about Fridays. All year long Fridays are penitential days that are to be marked by some sort of sacrifice or penance. Abstinence from meat is a traditional sacrifice, though Catholics in America can substitute a different penitential, or even charitable practice. Though during Lent, abstinence from meat is obligatory. I didn’t know for the longest time that we were supposed to be doing something all year round on Fridays.

Also, it is okay to modify your Lenten practices if it isn’t working out.


Right now you might be thinking, “I am already drowning and I do not have time for this.” Sometimes the best way to grow closer to God is the simple way. I am a firm believer that sometimes smaller things (praying for five minutes) can bring one closer to God faster than by the big things (going to daily Mass). It is unwise to take bites you cannot chew. You will either choke or throw up or both. God understands where you are at more than anyone else. When thinking about what to do for Lent, think about what clears away the insanity of the world, not creates it.

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