Last year, I presented ten suggestions for Lent (MAGNET, February 2017). We all need to do the ten things proposed in that article: Reflect, Pray, Fast, Help, Visit, Share, Apologize, Forgive, Appreciate, Read the Bible. They are perennially valid, and you can see them, if you wish, on our website (www.crimagnet.com).

This year, we try another approach. What to give up for Lent. After all, many Catholics think of Lent as the time when they give up something they normally enjoy (meat, alcohol, sweets, etc.). There are more harmful things we need to give up. Here is a list.

  1. Blaming: Blaming serves no purpose. If I hit a cup on the table by mistake, and blame the one who put it there, and he blames me for being careless, nothing useful is achieved. It makes much more sense to ask: What can we do about it?
  2. Gossip: When he launched the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis told a group of religious, “If we abstain from gossip during this year, it will be a great Year of Mercy.” He compared gossip to leaving a bomb at a crowded bus stand and walking away. Gossip does enormous harm, which we cannot erase.
  3. Jealousy: Jealousy is common and destructive. It will destroy our happiness and lead us to harm others. The jealous person “feels” that if others are praised or liked, he/she is losing out. Hence they tend to speak ill of the person they are jealous of. The real reason for jealousy is our insecurity. If we can look at our areas of insecurity and do something about it, we learn to handle our life positively. Otherwise, we put down others, and make fools of ourselves.
  4. Worry: Jesus taught us that worry is a useless emotion. Worry means: To imagine the worst possible outcome as real, and to relive it repeatedly. If I get a little pain, I imagine myself as having the worst forms of cancer, and lose out on living my life today. The positive attitude opposed to worry is TRUST. Trust God. Trust the good people in your life. Trust yourself. There are hardships, yes, but we can find a solution to most problems. Worrying (which can become a habit) serves no purpose. Trusting prayer and diligent action can solve most problems.
  5. Laziness: Why postpone the hard work? Why not get up a little earlier and pray? Why not leave the desk and do regular exercise? Why not clean your room, wash your clothes and complete other chores that have been piling up? Why not leave my surroundings clean, and free of litter?
  6. Addictions: An addiction is something that has become stronger than your best intentions and plans. If it is strong or lasting, you may need help. If it is taking you away from people, and hinders you from doing your duties well, it is evidently dangerous. The addiction can be to alcohol, pornography, food, TV, computer games, social media, shopping, gossip or any other destructive habit.
  7. Fear: There is one sentence repeated in the Bible 365 times: “Fear not!” God does not want us to live in fear; He invites us to trust and to live in love. Fear can make us betray our conscience (as Peter did when he denied Christ). When our hearts are ruled by fear, we cannot love. A family, or a formation house, or a religious community marked by fear is damaging for the members. Love, instead, transforms the heart, gives us tremendous inner strength, and makes us do good cheerfully.

Jesus did not come among us to teach us any special diet. What he did teach and show was something incomparably more important and more beautiful: How to move from fear to love, from selfishness to compassion, from worry to trust—and to build a world where human beings see and treat one another as God’s beloved sons and daughters.

May Lent (or any other religious observance) not distract us from the essentials, but help us become what God wants us to be. A religious practice is meaningful if it helps me become a better person, and makes our earth a better home for all.

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Make Lent Meaningful


Lent is like going to the gym—plus doing a master check-up.

It is aimed at getting rid of toxins and ailments, and getting spiritually fit.

Just shifting to a vegetarian diet does not fulfill this purpose.

What is needed is a CHANGE OF HEART—not simply a change of diet.

We come together as a family/religious community/parish to see how to make Lent meaningful, and to take some common decisions. It is good to look at seven aspects of Lent:

1. Personal Conversion: Which are my areas of sin, which I need to repent of and correct? Where am I going against God’s loving plans for me? Where am I doing harm to others? How am I destroying my happiness and the happiness of others? (We do not share this with others. But each one will do well to reflect and write down what comes up. Possible areas of awareness: gossip, alcoholism, injustice, uncontrolled temper, accessing pornography, neglect of duties, cheating in business, harshness and cruelty). Remember what St. John wrote, “If anyone says he has not committed sin, he makes God a liar.” Lent will be wonderfully meaningful if I were to admit and correct my major areas of wrong-doing.

2. Group Conversion: How do we need to improve as a family/community/parish? Are we united? Are we happy? Are we an attractive witness to our own younger members and to others? How do treat one another? How do we speak of others? How good is our family prayer? (It will help to write down two or three things we need to change or improve, share them with one another, and take a decision which all will stand by.)

3. Prayer: How can I improve my prayer life? (Private reflection and writing.). How is our community prayer? Are there ways we can do it better? (Reflect, write and share.)

4. Penance: What sacrifices am I planning that will make me a better person? Correcting a harmful habit (e.g., smoking or gossip) is more meaningful than changing one’s diet. So, too, doing one’s duties more faithfully is a better “penance” than skipping meals. But making sacrifices in food (and other areas) can help us become more disciplined. What sacrifices will I make this Lent? (Reflect and write.) What sacrifices shall we agree on as a family/community/parish? Examples: Simplify our food, and help the poor with the money we spare; cut down on unnecessary expenses, and give that money to the poor; get up earlier to pray; do voluntary work among the poor or the sick.

5. Way of the Cross: This devotion is popular for two reasons: We can feel for Jesus’ sufferings and understand better his love for us; secondly, we all need to find strength for our own way of the cross. Take part in it, at least once a week. If prevented by illness or travel, make it by yourself.

6. Love: All conversion must be seen in greater love. It is far more important to practice love and justice than to avoid meat and fish. Apologize to those you hurt. Forgive those who hurt you. Appreciate the good that others do. Do not gossip or humiliate others. Ask: How can I grow in love during these forty days? ( Write. Do.) How can we as family/community/parish become more caring, more forgiving, more helpful to one another and to others? (Reflect. Write. Share. Decide together.)

7. Sacrament of Reconciliation: Sometime during Lent, make a sincere and well-prepared confession. If you are running an institution, provide this opportunity to Catholic staff and students. If you are a priest, please make the sacrament a meaningful and comforting experience of God’s tender mercy for the penitent. A middle-aged business man about his experience of confession: “I feel so happy after my confession. I did not know I could be so happy.” Jesus came to make sure our joy is full. Give Him and yourself the joy of a heart-felt home-coming.

– Fr. Joe Mannath SDB is the National Secretary of CRI and the editor of this magazine

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Meaningful, Joyful Lent


Here are ten suggestions. Choose one or some or all ten

Joyful Lent? Isn’t it supposed to be a sombre time, unlike Christmas, which is experienced as a joyful celebration?
No! The church calls Lent a joyful season.
Why? In what way?
Here’s how.
When we get over a sickness, or become more fit through exercise, or heal a division through an apology, all these are joyful events worth celebrating.
This is exactly what Lent is for—to heal our hearts, to become stronger to love, to get closer to God and to one another.
Lent, in simple words, is not mainly about a change of diet. It is really about a change of heart.
Carrots will not get me closer to God than chicken soup. Vegetarians are not necessarily better than meat-eaters. In fact, Jesus insisted that it is not what I put into my mouth that corrupts me, but what comes out of my mouth.
Then, why Lent? What is its meaning? How can we keep it in the spirit of Jesus?
What makes Lent, or any time of the year, “holy” or spiritually beneficial are three practices: prayer, charity and penance. We need all three 365 days of the year; but we can focus on them more intensely during these forty days.
Here are ten suggestions. Choose one or some or all ten.


Ruben, an IT professional, says: “I am all into the world of IT and computers and Internet and Facebook contacts and that whole world based on machines. I run the risk of losing my humanity. So, I use Lent to take time to pause. I like to think of what life is about, what God means to me, and how to become a better human being.” I like to sit in a church or in my room or in a park quietly and face myself honestly.”


Rita, a nurse in a city hospital, finds that her days are full—with work, travel, caring for family members. “When we are busy, the one we throw out first is often God. Isn’t it true? We say we are too busy to pray. But we find time for many other things. As I neglect God, I also lose my peace of mind and become less caring. So, I want to pray more during Lent. I want to get up ten minutes earlier and spend that time talking with God. On days I do this, I am happier and stronger.”


Jason, a college student, is fond of good food and the occasional drink. Nothing wrong with having a good appetite, but if food becomes a big concern in life, what will happen to more important things? So, Jason has decided to abstain during Lent from some of the foods he likes a lot, and to have just one meal on Fridays. When he tried this in other years, he found that it was a struggle at the beginning, but left him feeling happier afterwards. The sense of being in control rather than be controlled by his desires is a good feeling, he says. After all, he says, we need discipline to succeed in any line—sports, business, research, body-building. Why not be more disciplined to be a better human being?

4. help

Jesus’ main message to us, without any doubt, is: You are tenderly loved by God. What God wants most from you is that you love one another. Use Lent to grow in love. If sharing an ice cream makes someone else happy, do it, rather than avoid ice cream because we are in Lent. Love matters more than fasting or saying prayers. Whom will you help during Lent? Is there anyone in need of a visit, a kind word of encouragement, some financial help? Anyone who is alone or lonely whom you can visit?


Visit that aged relative whom you may have been neglecting. Visit a home for the aged. Talk with some of the inmates. Several of them long for a visit. Visit your parents if you have been away long.


What gifts can you share? Time? Money? Talents? If you are a parent, train your children to share, not to accumulate. Today, with smaller families, there is a great danger of children becoming more self-centred and less willing to share. Teach them to celebrate Christmas and their birthday and other special occasions by sharing things with poorer kids, rather than wait for one more gift.


Have you hurt anyone? If so, apologize. Say sorry for any pains you caused, rather than give excuses or blame other people. Blaming serves no useful purpose. An apology brings healing, both to you and to the person you have injured. If there are divisions in your family or religious congregation, do something about it this Lent. Often, people are waiting for someone else to take the first step. Whoever takes that first step, does a lot for the healing of hearts.


Forgive those who hurt you. Learn from people who have forgiven atrocious ill-treatment and injustice. Forgiving is a favour you do to yourself. Keeping anger in your heart does you enormous damage. Forgive! Let go of hurts! Don’t let anger and grudges poison your life.


Most people long for a word of appreciation. Do you thank people for their services—the driver, the cook, the lift operator, the watchman? Do you notice the good that people do, and say a word of appreciation? A simple, spontaneous word of appreciation means much more than formal speeches on the stage. Each of us can multiply the good in the world if we affirm those who do good.


Spend time with the Word of God. It carries all the answers we need. We often seek solutions and guidance else where. Make your prayer life centred on Jesus and the Bible, not on saints (including founders). During Lent, become more familiar with the Word of God. Allow it to become really the lamp for your feet and the light on your path.

The core of Lent is a change of heart, not simply a change of diet. If you change your diet at all (e.g., by avoiding meat, and fasting on prescribed days), please remember it is only a reminder of the main thing—to become more loving, more disciplined and more God-centred.
If so, Easter will truly be a rising to a new life—a life more like that of Jesus

 – Fr. Joe Mannath SDB is the National Secretary of CRI and the editor of this magazine

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