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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Three Habits to Get the Most Out of Lent

Robert Barron - Three Habits to Get the Most Out of Lent

Robert Barron - Three Habits to Get the Most Out of Lent

Peace be with you. Friends, we come now to the holy season of Lent, one of the most important periods of the liturgical year. During Lent, the Church asks us to do three things. It's really activity-oriented. We're asked to pray, to fast, and to give alms. What I want to do in this sermon today is just say something simple about each of those three essential Lenten activities: to pray, to fast, and to give alms. So, first of all, prayer. I always loved John of Damascus' definition of prayer. He says, "To pray is to raise the mind and the heart to God".

To raise the mind and the heart to God. Think of, in the course of our day, we're preoccupied with so many different things, right? Our job, our family. Are we achieving our goals? Are we getting ahead? Why did that person insult me? Am I impressing that ...? But we're obsessed with all these particulars, and that's okay. But the trouble is, in that process, we rarely raise our minds and hearts to God. Prayer is a kind of friendship with God. It's cultivating a relationship with God. Not leaving behind everything else in our lives, in fact, all of that should be related to God, but prayer is explicitly tuning in to our friendship and relationship with God. So during Lent, we are asked to pray more intensely, to pick up our game in regard to prayer.

The spiritual writer, Thomas Merton, was asked one time, "What's the best thing I can do to improve my life of prayer"? And Merton responded, "Take the time". And I've always loved that. It wasn't something esoteric. He just said, "Take the time". It's like if you're trying to cultivate a friendship with someone, and you never spend time with that person. You never see him or her, you never call him or her, etc. Well, you're not really friends, are you? You don't take the time to be with that person. Same with God. So Lent, we take the time to cultivate our friendship with the Lord.

Now, how do you do it? Well, there are a thousand ways to pray, and a lot of that depends upon your own personality, your own style. I'll make a couple suggestions. The Rosary prayer, one of my favorites. I bet most of you listening to me right now have a rosary around the house somewhere. Maybe your mom had it or your grandmother had it. Maybe it's sitting in a drawer somewhere gathering dust. Maybe it's hanging from the rear view mirror of your car. Get that rosary out during Lent, and pray it every day. I guarantee you your life will change. Pray the Rosary during Lent. I'm a great advocate of the Jesus Prayer. "Lord, Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner".

That's the entire prayer. But you say it over and over again. Maybe in the course of five minutes, maybe in the course of a half hour, maybe if you become a monk in the Eastern Christian traditions all day long. But the Jesus Prayer is a great way of simply focusing our minds and hearts on the Lord. Get the little book called "The Way of a Pilgrim" if you want to read about the spirituality around this prayer. Something as simple as meditation. Meditation is taking a few minutes maybe, at the beginning of your day, middle of your day, end of the day. Reflect on the Gospel for that day. Maybe simply put yourself in the presence of God. "Lord, here I am. Guide me today. Lord, show me your will today. Lord, I want to love you more deeply today".

I love Francis de Sales, who recommended to his listeners, "You should meditate a half hour every day. Except, of course, when you're really busy. Then you should meditate an hour". Pretty good, right? Meditation, a concrete way of raising our minds and hearts to God, is a wonderful way to pray. Something I do, following the great Fulton Sheen, is a holy hour. I do it first thing in the morning. First thing I do. I'm kind of a morning person. Maybe you're better in the middle of the day or end of the day, I don't care, but if you can find that time to spend an hour of uninterrupted prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. How about the Mass, "the source and summit of the Christian life"? The greatest prayer. Maybe you are a Sunday Mass attender. Good.

How about daily Mass during Lent? My mother was a great advocate of that. Of course, my parents always took us to Mass every Sunday. But during Lent, my mom would always go to daily Mass. I remember when I was I think in seventh grade, she kind of invited/challenged me to join her, and I did. I remember to this day it had a big impact on me. Let's say you've been away from Mass for a long time. Okay. Come back to Sunday Mass. Make sure that becomes your practice this Lent. Anyway, do something. Do something. It's up to you, everyone's individual. Whatever you're currently doing in your life of prayer, intensify it this Lent. Raise your mind and heart to God. Second activity of Lent, we're called upon to fast.

Now, first of all, keep this in mind, everybody. Catholics are not Puritans. We're not Gnostics. We're not dualist. We don't despise the body. We don't think the natural desires for food and drink and sex and pleasure are bad things. So let's just be really clear about that. Fasting should have nothing to do with that kind of fussy anti-materialist puritanism. That ain't it. Here's, though, why we fast. Again, if I can quote Thomas Merton, Merton said that the desires for food and drink and pleasure and sex are in a way like little kids. Now, parents of little kids know what I'm talking about, is little kids want what they want when they want it. "Gimme. I want this. I want it now". And a good parent is not going to indulge every desire of their kids. They have to caution their desires; they have to control them.

Well, Merton says those naturally good desires in us ... And precisely because they're the desires for life. Think food and drink and sex: it's to keep ourselves alive and keep our species alive. That's why they're so powerful. But they have to be disciplined, now, listen, so that the deeper hungers of the heart and the soul can emerge. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness". What does that mean? They're thirsting for a right relationship with God. If all you're doing is indulging your hungers and thirsts for food and drink and sex, then the deeper hungers don't arise. So we fast so as to control and limit and put in their proper place these sometimes too insistent desires.

That's why the Church recommends during Lent that we abstain and that we fast from certain types of foods. Good. Maybe that desire's become too dominant in your life. Maybe it's a type of drink. Look at alcoholism in our society. Maybe, dare I say it: think of the sexual drive. Pornography is a giant problem in our country, especially among men. And so, are these desires becoming so dominant that the deeper hungers don't arise? Well, we fast, therefore, and Lent is a time for that. So what would I recommend? Well, first of all, follow the Church's basic requirements. They're not that demanding, are they? The fast on certain days, to abstain from meat and so on on Friday. Good. Follow those. They're pretty simple, pretty elemental.

But one thing I find, everybody, though I'm not real good at fasting from food, I must say, but often, when Lent comes to an end, I realize the one thing that really reminded me that it's Lent was the Friday abstinence. It was such a visceral reminder of Lent. So I think it's good that way. But think of other desires for food and drink and pleasure and sex that have become too dominant in your life. Can I mention one? Our obsession with social media. I've been reading lots of people, and this is really good, who have said, "I'm going to abstain or fast from social media during Lent. I'm going to really cut back on my screen time". Mind you, the people that invented those machines that we all carry around, well, they designed them to be addictive, and by God they're working, aren't they?

Well, that's a form of desire that's becoming dominant, too dominant, in our lives. Maybe fast or abstain a bit from social media during Lent. I mentioned the problem of pornography, again, rampant in our society, a multi-billion dollar industry. I mean, you should fast forever from pornography; start this Lent. That's a problem for you? Start this Lent fasting from that practice. So, we pray, we fast. The third thing we do in Lent is we give alms. Now, in a way, this is the most important practice of Lent, because to give alms is simply in a concrete way to express love. Love, the greatest of the theological virtues, means to will the good of the other. That's what it means. I love the austerity of that definition. It doesn't have to do with emotional fireworks and all that. To love is to will the good of the other. Well, how do you do that concretely? By helping the poor. And I'm construing poor here broadly, not just the economically poor, but anyone that's in need, any of our neighbors are in need. What am I doing concretely to help them? That, if you want, everybody, is giving alms. It's any form of service to the poor.

Now, automatically, I think, we consider a monetary gift when we say giving alms. And that's not bad, because there's something about giving money that kind of cuts to the quick, doesn't it? "Okay, I'll do this and that, but now you're asking me for my money? I get sort of reactive". Well, good. That means it's going to cost you a little bit. Here's something interesting. Catholics, when we go to Mass, right, and the opening of the Mass, and the prayers, and the Liturgy of the Word, then the homily, and then the Creed, and then it's as though, "Oh, the Mass is kind of suspended for a little while, while we play a little music, and now we're going to take up the collection. And then when that's over, we'll resume the Mass".

I think a lot of Catholics think that way. That's not it. No, no; the act of giving alms, that's what the collection is, that's integral to the Mass. Because what we're doing is preparing to join ourselves to the sacrifice of Christ. And so we make, concretely, a sacrifice. Good. That's essential to the Mass. Well, during Lent, we are encouraged now to give alms in a more intense way. What might I recommend here? Well, here's an old biblical idea I've always liked. To tithe. To tithe means to give 10 percent of your income. Okay. Maybe it's a way to, when you do your taxes, and "Here's exactly what I took in this year. Now take 10 percent of that". Make sure you're giving that away somehow to the poor. Maybe you say for the forty days of Lent, you figure, "Now, how much do I make during that period"?

All right; take 10 percent of it. Give it to the poor. It's something clean and clear and concrete about that I've always loved. Here's a simple one. Maybe your custom is to tip 15 percent at a restaurant. Tip 20 percent during Lent. Maybe you tip 20 percent. Well, tip 25 percent during Lent. Simple. Maybe, during Lent, purposely carry around with you some kind of loose change or loose bills, so that when people ask you on the street for money, you've got something to give them. I know. It's a complicated issue. But how about you say, during Lent, "I'm going to give to anyone that asks me". That includes, by the way, when mail comes in. People are soliciting money from you. Maybe just make an act of faith.

You say, "Lord, I'm going to trust in your providence that whatever request is made of me, I'm going to respond favorably". Okay. That's something you can do. Maybe set up a poor box in your house. This is an interesting practice. Just a simple box, put it by the door. Anytime you leave the house during Lent, put something in it. I'm not saying how much. Put ten bucks, 1 dollar, 25 cents. I don't care what it is. But you're concretely reminding yourself of your obligation to the poor every time you leave the house. More generally, in terms of giving alms, go beyond just money. Perform one of the corporal or spiritual works of mercy in a very focused way during Lent.

Now, we don't have time to go into all of that. Go online and look them up. Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, etc., etc. Look up the corporal and spiritual works and say, "You know what? For these forty days, I'm going to pick one of these, and I'm going to do it more intensely". So, Lent begins. Let's not do this everybody, and here, I'm accusing myself, trust me, that when we come to the end of Lent, that we're going to say, "You know, Lent kind of came and went, and I didn't do that much. Nothing much changed in my life". Don't let that happen. Pray, fast, give alms. Maybe take one suggestion I've made from each of those categories, and do one of them. Or take one idea from any of the categories and say, "I'm really going to go all the way with this idea". I don't care; that's up to you. But do something this Lent. Pray, fast, give alms. And God bless you.
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