Reading a chosen passage from Scripture the night before one’s prayer time is a simple preparation that can increase the fruitfulness of prayer. DAVID PRAHL/SHUTTERSTOCK

Spiritual Life

Readying your heart for Lent

If you practice regular meditation with Scripture, you know that St. Ignatius and other spiritual masters recommend that you read through the chosen passage the night before your prayer time.

However simple it sounds, spending just a few minutes with the passage before bed seems to implant the verse somehow. It’s almost as if the Holy Spirit reads this tiny act of preparation as his sign to go to work, to begin to breathe that verse into your very being, sending out its spiritual oxygen, revitalizing the blood with new understanding and engagement even as you sleep. You find that as you begin to pray, the verse is already there somehow, in the blood, bringing its holy oxygen to your heart.

It is an obvious principle that simple preparation helps to assure the fruitfulness of the prayer – or any worthy activity. Romano Guardini writes that “No one with a serious task before him will approach it unprepared, but will concentrate on the demands he has to face.” He likens it to showing up at a music concert at the last minute, “allowing for no transition between the noise and the unrest of the street and the opening bars of the concert.” Instead if we really want to receive it, “We shall be there in good time and hold ourselves ready for the beautiful experience before us.”

We can apply the same principle to our Lenten practices. How can we prepare ourselves better, assuring the fruitfulness of this holy season? How do we transition from ordinary time and “hold ourselves ready for the beautiful experience” of Lent?

Perhaps you might build some transition into your schedule. One simple tool is to reread the Passion narratives, maybe as a family, quietly, slowly, without much commentary or to do, simply allowing the Passion to root and then wait for the Holy Spirit to “spirit.”

As a child, I can remember my parents and grade school teachers helping us to prepare for the liturgical season. They’d ask us to think about what we might give up – television or sweets or a favorite game. We would fill our “rice bowls” with our pennies and take a certain pride and childish possessiveness in being able to give something up. Lent was like a spiritual exercise I performed well or poorly. It’s embarrassing to admit how long that childish mentality stayed with me.

Lent is a gift, as sure as any other liturgical season, as sure as any other grace from God. And it does not belong to me. Lent is the Lord’s to do as he wishes. We do not solely take up Lenten practices in order to achieve a certain effect; we enter this holy season with fervor and determination to fast, pray, repent and give of ourselves because we love the Lord, and because he has asked us to. We want to receive well and in holiness every good gift he might like to bestow and in whatever way he might like to bestow it. Lent belongs to the Lord. Any outcome must be left up to him.

Take a little time this week to prepare. As you read through the Passion narratives or make an extra holy hour, ask the Lord what he desires of you in it, in your prayer, your fasting, your almsgiving. Then on Ash Wednesday, place your Lent on the altar. And trust that the Holy Spirit is already at work revitalizing in you all that is most precious to heaven.

Let’s be there “in good time” and “hold ourselves ready” for the beautiful experience of Lent.

Liz Kelly is the author of six books, including “Jesus Approaches: What Contemporary Women Can Learn about Healing, Freedom and Joy from the Women of the New Testament” (Loyola Press, 2017).

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