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Make straight the path for Lent Print
Guest column
Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 -- 12:00 AM

Word on Fire
Fr. Steve Grunow

In these days, therefore, let us add something beyond ordinary expectations of our service. Let each one, over and above the measure prescribed, offer God something of his own freewill in the joy of the Holy Spirit. ~ Rule of St. Benedict, Sixth century

In roughly three weeks, Ash Wednesday will arrive and with this commemoration, the Church begins the penitential practices of Lent.

What are penitential practices? Penitential practices are virtuous works through which we demonstrate the sincerity of our profession of faith. Through faith, we discipline our desires so that we might better serve the mission of the Church.

Lent is about preparing

Lent is an extended period of time during which the Church prepares herself to celebrate the great mysteries of Holy Week. During Holy Week, the Church recalls the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus and celebrates the startling revelation of his resurrection from the dead.

The culmination of Holy Week is presented in three days of intense prayer and worship. Holy Thursday is the day the Church commemorates the gift of the Blessed Sacrament and the priesthood. Good Friday is the day the Church both mourns the death of the Lord Jesus and celebrates the event of Christ’s death as fulfillment of the Incarnation.

During the vigil Mass on Holy Saturday, the Church marks and remembers the joyous and startling revelation of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

At last, the day of the Lord’s resurrection from the dead, commemorated with the vigil on Holy Saturday and at the Masses on Sunday, is popularly known as Easter.

Prepare to worship

It is important to remember that the preparations of Lent are not simply meant to inculcate in the faithful faith-based ethics or self-improvement, but to prepare us for worship.

The reception of ashes is not intended to be a sign of a vague, cultural association with the Catholic Church, but an external reminder that from the day of Ash Wednesday forward, you are preparing yourself for Holy Week.

The Incarnation is not a kind of ruse, in which God in Christ revels in only positive experiences and exempts himself from what is negative. He even shows himself as present in the experience of death.

Prepare through listening

Lent prepares us to let go of the superficiality and lack of attentiveness that can so often inhibit our appropriation of the Church’s faith. Heightened attentiveness and intensified reflection concerning the startling culmination of Christ’s Incarnation is revealed to us in Christ. These reflections can provide insights into how God has chosen to relate to us in the most extraordinary, unexpected, and undeserved way.

Prepare through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving

Prayer is essential to the life of faith, and by prayer, the Church does not invite us to simply be alone with our thoughts. Prayer is placing oneself at God’s disposal. What must we do? Wait and wonder. What will God do? That is up to him. As such, prayer is essentially an expression of a disposition to trust God’s purposes.

Through fasting we deprive the body of food. Why? Fasting is an exercise in detachment from something that we consider to be necessary and a source of comfort.

The experience of deprivation that comes from detachment compels us to consider how worldly things and pre-occupations are so easily elevated to ultimate concern and become rivals to God.

In a conscious attempt to deprive ourselves of small things, we prepare for the occasions when we will be asked to deprive ourselves of greater things.

Finally, we are asked to give alms. Almsgiving is more than just allocating surplus funds to a charitable organization or cause. More is expected of us than that!

Think of almsgiving as acts of generosity that enable the performance of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. It is through the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy that we show ourselves to be faithful, rather than accidental disciples.

Works are not a matter for delegation

Ours is an age of scandals, and one of the great scandals that has become a stumbling block to so many in terms of the faith, is that the faithful have come to believe that the performance of the Works of Mercy is a matter of delegation.

We make the Works of Mercy works for hire and exempt ourselves from having to actually do them ourselves. Not so! The Works of Mercy cannot be delegated.

Almsgiving is also a reminder of our own mortality, inasmuch as all worldly goods will be surrendered at the moment of death. Rather than building ever greater storehouses for our possessions, we give what we have away.

Prayer. Fasting. Almsgiving. None of these are ends in themselves, but instead each is a way, a way that is opening us up to the Church’s spiritual passage into the great mysteries of Holy Week:


Remember, thou art dust

And shall to dust return:

Then place not in the world thy


Its delusions spurn;

Prepare thee for the mighty


Impending over all;

Give to thy thoughts a loftier


And heed Heaven’s call.

Fr. Steve Grunow is CEO of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Learn more at