How many wasted or almost-wasted Lents have you passed in your life? Maybe your problem has been lack of planning, since, like most people, you’re used to waiting to get started on (or after) Ash Wednesday. But it might be more prudent to give your Lenten discipline some forethought before you enter the season. This is where our Blessed Mother comes in.
Mothers do a great deal in conceiving and arranging and preparing for the celebration of events in the life of a family, whether they are yearly festivals of our holy religion or one-time events like the first sacraments and weddings ,and of course graduations, games, trips, guests, and the like.
Just a few weeks ago, in the time of Epiphany, we commemorated the Miracle at Cana. There was some lack of planning on the part of the master of the house and his sommelier, and their great party was about to turn into a penitential meal with no wine. So who steps in and notices the need and obtains its fulfillment? Our mother, of course! (John 2:1-12).
This year we need to go to Mary and ask her to tell her Son that you have no wine of true contrition, no wine of penance and fasting, no wine of prayer and contemplation, no wine of merciful deeds. And then she will obtain for you the insight to settle on your resolutions in all of these areas, and to keep those resolutions. She will see to it that your vessels are filled to the brim with penance, prayer, and mercy.
Mary always has an unbroken vessel to fill with new, unbroken resolve! She is a loving mother who wants no one to be left out of the celebration of Easter for lack of preparation. She is the perfect friend and hostess; she wants no one to be ashamed or embarrassed at her Son’s victory parade!
May I suggest the following five-part rosary exercise?
1. Pray a decade of the rosary for the intentions of your prayer life during Lent. Then, spend a few moments determining what you will do—something reasonable, like a daily rosary, short prayer aspirations throughout the day, a daily visit to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament (which does not have to be exposed for you to be in His presence and adore), or praying some parts of the Liturgy of the Hours.
2. Pray a decade for the intentions of your life of penance during Lent. Then, spend a few moments determining what you will do: eat less food or less-rich food (perhaps the traditional abstinence from meat or animal products), spend less time in sleep (even just getting up when your alarm goes off a quarter hour earlier than usual to start the day with an act of penance), allow yourself less of other comforts like long hot showers or an extra pillow in bed. None of these would kill us, and they help to remind us of the reality of penance when the body joins the soul’s prayer in longing for God.
3. Pray a decade for the intentions of your works of mercy during Lent. Then spend a few moments thinking of those in need that you personally could help by your presence, like the sick or shut-ins or prisoners Your visit does not have to be long, but it can be really life-giving to those who are bedridden or alone. Or just resolve to listen to others when you are inclined to be impatient, and never omit some alms, real money for the support of the needy.
4. Then add an extra decade for the souls of the faithful departed. Yes, in prayer, penance, and works of mercy most of all, don’t forget those poor souls in purgatory. You can help them immensely, since all of the other works described above can be offered for their release, and all of these works have at least partial indulgences attached to them which may be applied to the departed. Mary loves souls who give up the satisfactory value of their good works and prayers for the dead. This Lent, make some new friends in the other world! You may need such help yourself someday, so follow the Golden Rule.
5. Then pray a fifth decade for the grace of persevering in your resolutions. And remember that, persevering often means starting over again when we break our resolve. This willingness to start over is perhaps the best fruit of our Lenten discipline. Our Lady tells us, as did our earthly mothers, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” That’s the secret of Lent when we allow ourselves to prepare with the help of our Blessed Mother. Then we will be happy to say come Easter, “Queen of Heaven, rejoice!”