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Preparing for Lent: Listen for Christ’s prompting

“The power of the pause.”
 
This phrase about listening for the Lord’s call is a favorite of Teresa Monaghen, an apostolic oblate in Omaha and a director of the oblates’ Pro Sanctity Movement, an international organization of Catholics who seek holiness in everyday life.
 
And pausing in prayer before the Lord is a simple but powerful way to prepare for Lent, Monaghen said – those 40 days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that begin Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14 this year, and end at the Easter triduum, reliving the passion and death of Christ during Holy Week and his resurrection on Easter, April 1.
 
Monaghen and Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the archdiocese and a spiritual director, suggested in interviews with the Catholic Voice that it’s important for people to prepare for Lent, ask for the Lord’s guidance – and discern how he might want to lead them in spiritual growth, rather than arbitrarily choosing something to give up, such as candy or coffee. 
 
Taking time before Lent to gaze at the crucifix, to think about Jesus’ sacrifice and his victory over death, can help people see their own limitations and seek to draw closer to Christ by overcoming them with Christ’s help, Monaghen said.
 
“It’s the ‘power of the pause,’” she said. “Where am I most vulnerable? Is it too much chocolate or pizza? Or is it just doing my own will?”
 
Uniting the will with Christ’s brings freedom – and on the other side of the equation, sin drags people down, which is reflected in things such as addictions, harmful relationships or family discord, Monaghen said. “It’s heavy, we feel it,” she said. 
 
Lent provides an opportunity to look inward, identify barriers that prevent unity with Christ, and seek to break those down, Deacon McNeil said. 
 
“We should ask the Lord, ‘How should I change? You tell me.’”
 
Areas of disorder might include being critical of the weaknesses and faults of others in the workplace, or automatically picking up the smartphone in moments of quiet, Deacon McNeil said.
 
Refraining – in effect, fasting – from that kind of criticism could be part of a meaningful Lent, or sitting in silence and contemplation with the smartphone off, rather than surfing the internet, he said. 
 
If candy or coffee is a true barrier to Christ, then giving those up can be a good and wise decision, Deacon McNeil said. 
 
“But if not, we tend to ritualize Lent,” he said. “He (Jesus) doesn’t want our ritualized programs. He wants us to have movement, a change in direction, and ultimately a share in his glory.”
 
Deacon McNeil is offering one way for people to pause during Lent and Easter – a 13-week retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, beginning Feb. 15 at Mary Our Queen Parish in Omaha. Each Thursday through May 17, for 90 minutes beginning at 7 p.m., people are invited to learn about the exercises, practice them together in praying and sharing, and then practice them alone for one hour each day between sessions, Deacon McNeil said. Anyone can register to participate, he said. 
 
“It’s all with the idea of growing in personal intimacy with the Lord,” he said, which leads to freedom to make good decisions in life, bring order to disordered attachments and take on Jesus’ mind and heart.
 
Deacon McNeil and Monaghen said being one with Christ also leads people to unity with others and to care for them. It might mean writing a note to someone rather than ignoring the prompt to do that very thing, Deacon McNeil said.
 
“It could be the Holy Spirit acting in you,” he said. “That one note could be what that person needs at that point in their life. Especially if that person is suffering.”
 
Being one with others might mean spending more time with family, Monaghen said, or adopting another family in need by providing meals and performing other acts of kindness.
 
“I don’t want to sit at home or just do the minimum,” Monaghen said. “I don’t feel good about that. Instead, as God chooses me, I choose others.”

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