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Last summer my wife and I remodeled our kitchen and half of the first floor of our house.  Well, actually, we hired a contractor to do the work.  But, there were a few things I reserved for myself.  Before construction began we moved everything we could into the garage except for major furniture items which we moved to the basement.  After work was completed we moved the furniture back into the upstairs.  The stuff in the garage…well, it’s still there.

Another task reserved for myself with the idea of saving a few bucks was painting an accent color on a four by seven foot wall in our living room.  It’s now been seven months and it’s still not painted.

My wife occasionally, and patiently, asks me if I’m ever going to get these things done.  My response has been, “Yes, dear, you don’t have to remind me every six months!”

These things came to mind while reading yesterday’s scripture passages.  In the first reading from James 5:9-12, we are cautioned to keep our promises, to “let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’”.

In the Gospel, Mark 10:1-12, Jesus and the Pharisees debate whether divorce is permitted in marriage.  In a nutshell, Jesus makes it clear that with marriage, a promise is a promise, and it can’t be undone through simple justification for convenience sake. 

It is four days before the start of Lent and most of us are considering what promises we will make during Lent.  For many, those promises will consist of giving things up, especially food and drink such as quarter pound burgers, chocolate, caffeine, and beer for 40 days.  

But, Lent is about more than giving things up.  It’s about preparing our soul to receive the glory of our Risen Lord at Easter.  The Church has traditionally suggested three ways to do this:  prayer, fasting and almsgiving, often called the Three Pillars of Lent.

The first pillar, prayer, is intended to dispose our hearts and souls to grow in friendship with Christ through conversation with Him.  It’s telling Him what is on our hearts and with what we are struggling.  It’s giving thanks for all we’ve been given and asking His assistance when we know we can’t do something ourselves.  It’s listening to His response, His message about what His will is for us, and then resolving to take action on those inspirations.  That resolution in itself is a “promise” which we then fulfill.

The second pillar, fasting, may include the challenge of giving something up, something difficult that will stretch our efforts.  But, that’s not the whole deal.  It’s more about clearing space in our soul for Jesus.  It’s rooting out the unnecessary stuff that takes up room and crowds Him out of our life.  It’s looking at our poor habits and vices and resolving to change so that God can replace them with virtue.

The third is almsgiving, the component that looks beyond God and ourselves and focuses on those around us.  It’s attention to the needs of others and seeing how we can love others as Christ loves us.  We may think of almsgiving as throwing a few extra coins in the collection basket, or dropping off a few extra boxes of cereal at the food pantry.  Those are good things but they aren’t everything.  It’s good to get creative with almsgiving, to do something which, like fasting, stretches us.  It’s not just about giving of our treasure, but of our time and talent, too.  

Resolutions don’t have to be excruciatingly difficult.  Keep them simple but challenging, doable and worthy of your effort.

I’ve never shared my Lenten resolutions because I didn’t want it to appear like a prideful thing.  But, this year, I am in hope they will help others use this season to become the person God created them to be.  Here are mine:

Prayer – I resolve to spend at least 30 minutes in meditation, reflecting, making a resolution and keeping it, every day without missing a day.

Fasting – I resolve to set aside the comforts associated with idleness and procrastination and be diligent about completing projects around the house.

Almsgiving – I resolve to write a note a day to 40 people whom I love and cherish, letting them know how much they mean to me.

In your effort to grow closer to Christ, the evil one will put obstacles in your path, especially the need to rationalize and justify why you should give up on your resolutions.  Do not give in!

“Dear Jesus, You sacrificed everything for me.  This Lenten season, help me to make sacrifices that will make room for You in my life.  Amen.”

(Are You Prepared for Lent? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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