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Turn off the autopilot during Lent

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Every year, Lent offers teens and adults an opportunity for repentance and renewal. As a Maryknoll missioner I know says, the Lenten season is an invitation to "turn off the 'autopilot' of our lives" and grow more deeply in God's grace.


To help us in this process, we have the three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Through these practices, we can live a joyful life dedicated to God and to others.

— Prayer. We need God to get through the challenges and temptations during the 40 days of Lent, which reminds us to rely on God to strengthen our will year-round.

We can draw closer to Christ by going to Mass more often, reading the Gospels, praying the rosary and the Stations of the Cross and going to Eucharistic adoration. Going to confession during Lent also offers an opportunity to reconcile with our Father. (If it has been a while, here is a refresher: usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/sacraments-and-sacramentals/penance/upload/Bulletin-Insert-Penance-ENG.pdf)

How you strengthen your relationship with Jesus can vary, but it always involves dedicating more time to pray.

— Fasting. One of the ancient practices linked to Lent involves fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstaining from meat on Lenten Fridays. Ultimately, this fasting should help us to be more aware of those who go without food, and to foster solidarity with them.

Many Catholics also were taught to "give up something" for Lent, as a way of penitence and to purge habits that might keep us from becoming the best versions of ourselves.

Some common things to give up include limiting social media or TV for 40 days to make more time and space for God; giving up judging others, gossiping or negative talk; giving up sweets or junk food and donating that money to the poor.

According to the LifeTeen website, some teens also pray for a different person each day of Lent, or write to 40 people to thank them for their impact in their lives. Others take Lent as an opportunity to evangelize, like a teen that gave up spoons and forks and learned to use chopsticks, which allowed him to talk more about Lent with friends.

But, remember that if we become so riddled with guilt about "failing" our Lenten sacrifice, or if we come out smug in our own spiritual "strength," we've missed the point. As Pope Benedict XVI once said, Lent "stimulates us to rediscover the mercy of God so that we, in turn, become more merciful toward our brothers and sisters."

— Almsgiving. Helping those in need, promoting justice and working together to build a world where the dignity of all people is upheld are integral parts of the Christian way of life — and are also an expression of our gratitude for all that God has given to us.

Since Lent falls during some of the coldest months of the year, try helping those who are homeless. As Jesus said in Matthew 25, when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the ill, visit the imprisoned, we do these things to Christ.

Get involved in your school, church, youth group or community and donate time and money to help others.

Lent is a special chance to stop "going through the motions" and to cultivate a more intentional and fulfilling way of Christian living.

After these 40 days of growing closer with Jesus, let's celebrate the joy of Easter and, renewed by this, continue to accept God's love and share it with others.

Maria-Pia Negro Chin is bilingual associate editor at Maryknoll Magazine.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018