When we think of Lent, we usually think of self-discipline: what are you giving up this year? Are you not putting sugar in your coffee? Did you give up snacking?
However, Lent is about more than just self-control and abstinence; in reality, it’s about self-improvement. Thus, it’s the perfect time to reinforce all of the virtues in your own life, and, in turn, with your children.
The 10 virtues at the heart of the PACE curriculum can help tremendously in our spiritual journey during the 40 days of Lent, breathing new life into our understanding of virtue.
Below are brief reflections on each of the 10 PACE virtues as they are reflected in the Lenten season.
The three pillars of Lent are fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, and self-discipline plays a role in all of these practices.
Fasting: Most people “give up” something that they really enjoy doing or consuming during Lent. This lesson in self-control helps us stay strong and not succumb to temptation, keeping our fasts.
Prayer: Life is busy, which can make finding time to pray difficult. However, we are called to pray always, and especially during the Lenten season. When we organize our time, we find extra moments for prayer so that we can hear the voice of God.
Almsgiving: Giving alms encompasses both prayer—making an offering to God—and fasting—demanding a sacrifice, or giving, to God. Giving alms is a charitable habit that can be started in Lent and carried through to the rest of the year.
Journeying through Lent takes work. Each day requires effort—perhaps doing something extra spiritually, engaging in volunteer work, practicing our penances, or growing closer to our crucified Lord through prayer.
The season of Lent should be fruitful, but it requires hard work.
Lent lasts 40 days, a symbolic number in Jewish and Christian traditions. We remember the 40 days and nights of the flood, the 40 years that the Israelites wandered after being freed from slavery, and the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert. This amount of time requires perseverance, for us to keep going despite difficulties, temptations, and distractions. It can be tempting to give up on our Lenten practices halfway through the 40 days, but with perseverance, we can stay the course.
Praying the Stations of the Cross is a good way to recall Christ’s perseverance during His Passion.
During Lent, we work towards change and conversion and away from sin and the things that lead us to sin.
It is also a time to renew our faith and trust in God, because only He can help us, especially when we experience doubt or despair.
Faith means trusting in God and His ability to “make all things new.”
The Biblical readings during Lent are filled with Jesus’ parables, which teach us about His mercy and compassion. Through Jesus’ example, we learn that we should act with care and compassion for our fellow human beings.
Lent supplies us with many opportunities to practice compassion and help those most in need.
As St. John Chrysostom said: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So…if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”
We know that God desires union and friendship with us, but how can we attain this friendship? As with any friend, it is time spent with that person that brings you closer together. The best way to spend time with God is through prayer.
St. Teresa of Avila defined prayer as friendship with God—not merely an exchange of words, but a sharing of our thoughts, worries, and desires. She described mental prayer as “nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”
During the season of Lent, we often meditate on Christ’s life and, in particular, His courage during His Passion and death.
Jesus called on His disciples (and so, on us) to follow Him and be courageous. This can be very difficult, especially in today’s world where religion is routinely mocked and, in some instances, where Christians are persecuted and killed for their faith. But we know that to follow Jesus is to be courageous, because He told us “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
In a way, we return to God each year during the Lenten season. This returning is a type of loyalty to God in thanks for what He sacrificed by giving up His life for us.
We prove our loyalty to God by our behavior: keeping our Baptismal promises, obeying God’s commandments, resisting temptation, fasting and almsgiving, and re-committing ourselves to serving God here on earth.
Lent is a time to remember all of the gifts that God has given us and to meditate on how best to use those gifts for ourselves and for others. This is our responsibility as members of the Christian community.
Especially during this season, as we spend more time in prayer, we should remember the duties we are called to fulfill as Christians—and to act upon them.
Such responsibility can look like: leading a holy life, being an example to others in our words and actions, caring for those who are needy or lonely, proclaiming the Gospel, and giving witness to our faith.
Lent is—perhaps more than any other time of year—a time to look inward and to see ourselves as honestly as possible. When we take the time to do this, we see our shortcomings, sins, frustrations and resentments, which enables us to focus on the changes we need to make in our lives.
When we share our thoughts honestly with God, we experience hope, spiritual growth, and peace of mind.
The study of the virtues is an ongoing journey for each and every one of us. During this Lenten season, may we strive to practice the virtues faithfully and benefit from their great fruits!