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Father James Rafferty, director of mission and communication with the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha, conducts a Lenten mission Feb. 25 at St. Bernadette Parish in Bellevue. MIKE MAY/STAFF

Lent calls for letting go of distractions

Could setting aside social media, television viewing and other digital distractions be the key to a productive Lent?

Father James Rafferty thinks that’s a good place to start.

Letting go of distractions to make room in one’s mind and heart for God and sharing God’s love with others is his recommendation for making Lent a time of spiritual growth. 

Father Rafferty, director of mission and communication with the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha, shared his insights with people attending a Lenten mission Feb. 25-27 at St. Bernadette Church in Bellevue. 

His theme was “Living in the Fullness of Christ: Prayer and the Spiritual Life.”

He suggests going beyond acts of self-denial for their own sake to eliminating those things that get in the way of God’s love.

WHAT REALLY MATTERS

“The first step is to simplify to help us pay attention to what really matters – paying attention more deeply to the presence of God in our lives now, and his desire for greater friendship with us,” he told the Catholic Voice.

“Simplifying means noticing what gets in the way of my relationship with the Lord and my living out of that relationship, in love, for others.”

A good place to start is to look at our use of digital media and entertainment, Father Rafferty said.

He said that the number of distractions in our digital age and other things that vie for our attention draw us away from God and other people.

Eliminating our distractions can free us to focus on the three pillars of Lent – prayer, penance and almsgiving, he said. “These things are linked.”

“The asceticism (or self-denial) of Lent is an invitation to recognize our need for God, as a sense of penance, and seeing our sins as being the need that we have to welcome God’s love more and choosing to be attentive to God’s desire to care for us and give us greater life,” Father Rafferty said.

In this way, “we’re able to welcome the Lord and allow him to heal and strengthen us in the way that he wants to,” he said.

But he cautions against engaging in sacrifices that make us less loving. “If you’re going to quit smoking or give up caffeine for Lent and be miserable, for the sake of all of us, don’t do that.”

“The sense of Lenten sacrifice is not about being miserable, but the meaning of the sacrifice is in the greater love,” Father Rafferty said.

DESIRE TO LOVE

“Giving up something can have great merit as a personal sacrifice, but it’s important that underneath that sacrifice is the desire to love God and others, so that as I come out of Lent, I’m closer to the Lord and more eager and capable of communicating his love toward those around me.”

“Penance (begins with an) awareness that I’m not fully alive, not fully the person that God has fashioned me to be … so I realize, not so much my imperfection, but the greater life that God wants to impart to me,” he said. “Living in God’s image of me, living in God’s plan for my life.”

For example, the penance that we receive as a part of the sacrament of confession is not something we do to earn God’s love or forgiveness, he said. It is the external sign of the heart’s being converted.

“Penance in Lent is similar to that,” he said. “It’s the external manifestation to live more for others than for myself. And the sacrifice can be an act of love for another.

“So it’s a good practice to give something up during Lent, but to have the intention that the sacrifice benefits someone else – as an intercession for someone who is grieving, or those who are homeless, or those burdened by illness.”

In this way, our penance becomes prayer, he said.

A MATTER OF TIME

And prayer is also a matter of time, Father Rafferty said. “We give our time to things that we love. In our modern age, a lot of our time ends up being wasted in front of a screen in a way that’s not very meaningful.”

“Some people have a resistance to prayer because it takes time,” he said. “They struggle, they want to pray, but there is not time … so prayer has to do with turning to the Lord, speaking to the Lord, recognizing the Lord, sitting with Scripture. Fundamentally it’s a matter of time.”

We share our time with those closest to us, Father Rafferty said, “so sharing our time with the Lord is a deepening of connectedness and a sign of the importance of that relationship in our lives.”

“Ask the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, to increase our desire for him over other desires,” he said. “He will respond and help us to move toward prayer.”

Father Rafferty also suggests “making an appointment with the Lord, just like we would schedule a time to get together with a good friend – plan for it.”

Talking to God while doing other things is another way to find time for prayer, he said. “It doesn’t take the place of prayer that’s quiet, settled and still, but it can get us there.”

SERVING OTHERS

Finally, prayer can move us to serve others through almsgiving, Father Rafferty said.

“There are always people in the world who have much greater need than we do, so being aware of this can move us to provide some form of relief,” he said.

“It can be a contribution to a noble cause, or something very concrete like assisting with an organization that does outreach, or as simple as attending to a neighbor in need.

“It can be the gift of time,” he said. “Sometimes the greater sacrifice is not about funds, but time, giving our presence to another, face to face.”

Father Rafferty said our Lenten practices should not be self-seeking. “The real fruit of this Lenten journey is not that I am getting something back, but that I change.

“It’s that I become more giving, more self-forgetful, and in that sense, I become more like God,” he said.

LENTEN REGULATIONS

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 6, and continues until the Easter triduum, which begins with evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper Thursday, April 18, and runs through Easter Sunday, April 21.

Abstinence requirement: Prohibits eating meat but allows eggs, milk products and sauces made with animal fat. It applies to all Catholics ages 14 and older on Ash Wednesday, the Fridays of Lent and Good Friday, April 19.

Fasting requirement: Allows a single full meal each day and two light meals at other times but no solid food between meals. It applies to Catholics ages 18 through 59 on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

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