Lent has arrived and with it, 40 days of reflection, a time to take stock of where we are in our spiritual journey. Of course, it's still popular to "give something up" for Lent. That's not a bad way of keeping a tangible reminder that something is different, there's reason for pause, it's not about the indulgences but, rather, what we can give back during this season of fasting, almsgiving and reconciliation. Yet giving something up isn't the only way to engage ourselves in the season.
Did you wear your ashes proudly? Perhaps by God's intervention, this year my car broke down on Ash Wednesday which meant taking public transit to work, down to St. Mike's Cathedral for Ash Wednesday services, subway back to the office and a final extended subway ride to pick up the car (I didn't realize my first act of charity for Lent would be for the local mechanic).
So I certainly had the opportunity to wear my ashes publicly throughout the day. I'm not sure if it was an official declaration or not but the Cathedral this year (standing room only for the lunchtime service) was giving out particularly generous doses of ash, the kind that could require a scouring pad to remove. Perhaps that was the reason for a few extra looks but no less than 8 people asked me in my travels, "What's that on your head?" or some resorted to, "Hey do you know you have something on your head?"
These encounters gave me a brief moment to evangelize, to explain in a moment what the ashes were for. It got me to thinking - if every one of us had the chance to explain the symbolism of Ash Wednesday to another 8 people, we'd have the potential for, not a flashmob but an "ash-mob" of sorts, the opportunity to share our faith in the public square en masse.
I also caught a few people in my travels wearing ashes themselves - while we didn't stop for a fist-pump, it was tempting. Kind of affirming seeing someone from the same team on the street, wearing the ashes proudly and offering a smile or brief word of encouragement along the way.
So maybe we can collectively deploy "Operation Ash-Mob" to extend throughout these 40 days of Lent. How can we joyfully embrace the season each and every day? Last year in this space I had the chance to share some tangible ideas to bring Lent to life. It's not necessary to reinvent the wheel so below, with a few slight modifications, are some suggestions to chew on once again this year:
1. Reflect on the words of the new Mass translation. Digest the words don't just ingest them.
2. A more intentional prayer life - consider morning, mid-day and evening prayer.
3. Read a good book on spirituality, one that will enrich your spiritual journey.
4. Make a prayer basket at home - slips of paper or construction paper hearts (invite kids to participate) writing names or intentions that each person around the table picks out before each meal.
5. Attend weekday mass.
6. Say the rosary - even better if you don't mind bringing out your beads in public - on the bus, coffee shop or anywhere else people gather.
7. Make a point of experiencing the sacrament of reconciliation at the beginning and end of Lent at minimum.
8. Tell someone you're praying for them.
9. Don't tell someone you're praying for them and pray for them.
10. Give up meat on Fridays but don't substitute lobster - make fasting something that is truly sacrificial.
11. Keep track of your television and online habits - devote at least as much time to prayer or service.
12. Rumours, gossip, negative chatter that devalues others ends at your doorstep.
13. Begin and end each week with an email thanking someone for all that they do.
14. Be sure to say grace at any restaurant you frequent (don't dodge making the Sign of the Cross either)
15. Buy a coffee for someone living on the street but not until you learn their name and something about them.
16. Pray before the Blessed Sacrament.
17. Reconcile with someone you've hurt or aren't speaking to.
18. Invite someone who's been away from the church to attend mass with you.
19. Write a letter to a political leader on an issue you're passionate about.
20. Donate to charity - make a sacrificial gift not what's "left over" (remember the ShareLife campaign is underway).
21. Attend a lecture or public discussion centred on faith issues.
22. Thank a bishop, priest or member of a religious congregation for their public witness - invite them out for coffee or a meal.
23. Participate in the 40 Days for Life or other pro-life initiative.
24. Learn about the lives of the saints especially your parish saint.
25. Visit someone who's alone.
26. Consider a new liturgical experience - attend mass in the extraordinary form, an eastern rite service, etc.
27. Wash someone's feet - literally.
28. Pray the Stations of the Cross.
29. Find something you admire in someone you dislike.
30. Send a note of encouragement to someone who is participating in the RCIA program.
31. Get involved in Refugee Sponsorship at your local parish or contact the Office for Refugees to offer assistance.
32. At your parish Good Friday service, cram 3 more people than is comfortable in your pew to give them a spot to sit. Better yet give up your seat for them.
33. Attend Lectio Divina (March 4 & April 1).
34. Make time for family activities that are faith related.
35. Express your appreciation to someone in your parish who goes the extra mile - a lector, usher, pastoral associate, etc.
36. Journal about your spiritual highs/lows.
37. Pray for vocations.
38. Make a playlist of spiritual music that you enjoy and share it with a friend.
39. Embrace periods of silence in each day (it's the theme in Pope Benedict's message for the 2012 World Day of Communications).
40. Invite someone you know will be alone to your home for Easter Sunday dinner.
Our "Ash-mob" can make a profound impact this Lent. Now it's just up to us to take up the challenge as ambassadors for Christ. Are you up to it? So while giving up the chocolate and the chips is a good thing, let's embrace this Lent, body, mind and soul. Consider it your 40 day spiritual workout!
Off we go...