Almighty God knows our wants far better than we do ourselves. Like a fond father, He has a keen sense of our miseries; but He wishes that we should be sensible ourselves of our wants and miseries and fly to Him for relief.
The helplessness of our fallen nature, our many necessities and dangers, the temptations of the devil, the world, and the flesh, are proofs of the necessity of prayer.
To avoid the occasions of sin, to frequent the sacraments, to hear the Word of God, to meditate on the eternal truths--these are so many means of keeping ourselves in a state of grace. These means, however, will be of little profit to us if we forget to pray.
At the time of confession we make a resolution to overcome such and such a fault, or to practice such and such a virtue. At our next confession there is the same old tale of broken promises and unkept resolutions. We made the promise certainly, and we formed the resolution, but we forgot the one important thing--we never prayed for help to enable us to keep our resolution. No wonder we failed.
To do any actual, real good, to overcome temptation, or to practice virtue, we require the actual assistance of God. It is not enough to meditate and to make resolutions; we must have the assistance of God, and God only gives this to those who pray for it. Unless we pray we shall always be unfaithful to the promises we make to God.
"We believe," says St. Augustine, "that no one comes to be saved except by the call of God, that no one who is called works out his salvation except by the assistance of God and that no one merits this assistance except by prayer."
Prayer is the breath of the soul. Just as breathing is the sign of life, so is prayer the sign of life in the soul. The soul like the body requires food. Grace is the food of the soul. Without grace the soul cannot live and without prayer grace cannot ordinarily be obtained! "Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find."
We require no grand language when we pray, when we wish to address God. When we pray let us speak to God as a child to his father. How different is the Lord's Prayer from all of human composition! Yet He Who composed the prayer had infinite knowledge. It is so simple a child can understand every word of it. It is the most perfect model of prayer and contains in itself all the prayers ever composed by man. St. Augustine says: "If you run through all the words of other prayers you will find nothing in them that is not contained in the Our Father."
We must pray with humility for God resists the proud and gives His grace only to the humble.
We must pray with attention, for prayer is the raising up of the mind and heart to God. We cannot help distractions but we can prevent our minds resting on them. To pray with wilful distraction is to receive nothing and to offend God.
We must pray with confidence. We must pray with perseverance. God's graces cannot be valued. Our conduct as a rule is not such as to induce God to give us His gifts when we first ask for them. A gift so easily given might be lightly valued and easily lost. We often have to ask, time after time, for some gift from an earthly father. When we do receive it we appreciate it all the more.
St. Bernard says: "Prayer gives strength to fasting and fasting obtains grace to pray."
St. Jerome says: "By fasting the vices of the body are cured and by prayer the infirmities of the soul."
What we want most in Lent is sorrow for sin. Prayer is especially useful to obtain this sorrow. Prayer is one of the works of Lent and under the good work of prayer are comprised all the exercises of religion and piety. We do not adequately perform the work of prayer in Lent, if we simply confine ourselves to oral prayer.
How many there are, for example, who could consecrate this time by hearing Mass daily. What greater incentive to good living, what more powerful help against the temptations that surround us could there be than that union of our soul with Jesus Christ in the sacred offering of His Body and Blood? How many there are, too, who could make the Mass, as it were, more intimate and more complete for themselves by the frequent, yea--as our Holy Father has recommended--the daily reception of Holy Communion.
Besides Holy Mass the Church has many devotions of a special character throughout Lent; the preaching of sermons, the Stations of the Cross, and others peculiar to the season. We should make it our business to be present at these, that our spirit, in its work of penance, may not lag, but that it may grow and advance in contrition and love. Make Lent in very truth a time of devotion and meditation.
At home read again and again the account of Our Lord's Passion as it is found in the Gospels; read a good Life of Christ; read spiritual books such as the Imitation of Christ. Read and think upon these things and your soul will be in thorough keeping with the spirit of Lent. It will be awakened and refreshed and encouraged.
Ponder these suggestions for the keeping of Lent and come to some definite practical conclusions. For instance:
Recognize and admit your soul stands in need of penance.
Determine upon some particular practices of self-denial.
Decide upon some devotions and prayers beyond your ordinary ones.
Be faithful in adhering to these practices and devotions throughout the whole season of Lent.
Lent will be for you, then, not a mere word or name, but it will be, as it is meant to be, a time of spiritual profit and spiritual growth. Even though the penitential practices you engage in may be distasteful to human nature, they will be a source of supernatural gladness. For, through them, you will be united with Jesus Christ in His sufferings, His passion and death, and you will be brought to experience, as you could not otherwise, the real joy of Easter.
"However great may be the temptation, if we know how to use the weapon of prayer well, we shall come off conquerors at last; for prayer is more powerful than all the devils. He who is attacked by the spirits of darkness needs only to apply himself vigorously to prayer and he will beat them back with great success." - St. Bernard
"God will grant all that thou askest for in prayer, provided it be expedient; if it be not expedient, He will bestow something more conducive to thy welfare. He best knows how and when to supply thy wants. When, through ignorance, thou askest for what is not beneficial, it is better thy petition should not be granted." - Venerable Blosius
The first thing we should consider before undertaking any special practices for Lent is the fulfillment of our daily obligations to the best of our ability and according to our state in life.
1. If possible, hear Mass every day and receive Holy Communion daily. At least receive Holy Communion every Sunday during the Lenten season.
2. Visit the Blessed Sacrament once a day. This can be done on the way to work, during lunch hour or after work in the evening.
3. Attend the special Lenten devotions in your parish church.
4. Make the Stations of the Cross every day.
5. Say the Rosary (five decades) every day.
6. Say indulgenced aspirations occasionally during the day.
7. Spend fifteen minutes a day in spiritual reading.
1. Stop smoking during Lent.
2. Refrain from alcoholic beverages of all kinds.
3. Do not attend the theater.
4. Do not dance.
5. Stop eating a particular food or delicacy.
How to Keep Lent, part I - The season of Lent
How to Keep Lent, part II - Fasting
How to Keep Lent, part III - Almsdeeds
"Do not be misguided by those who, in the spirit of darkness, take the knowledge of the supernatural from you. Yes, in order, My children, to stay in the light, you will be rejected by many. You will be scorned; you will be called insane, because, I repeat: there is nothing in common between the light and the darkness. As they rejected Me upon your earth, you, too, must go the way of the cross. But carry your cross, My children, with purpose and fortitude. And I assure you, as your God, that the road you follow in the light will be well worth your perseverance. The joys of Heaven are for all, but all do not attain this height, My children, for they are not willing to sacrifice and do penance and to follow the way of the cross." – Jesus, November 1, 1976