Every year parishioners ask me as do hundreds of others via email, what can or ought we to do for Lent. The Forty Days of Lent are meant to be PENITENTIAL and to remind us that Our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, spent 40 days in the desert before embarking on His public ministry. Sacred Scripture highly recommends the ancient practice of
ALMSDEEDS (almsgiving, i.e., the donating of money OR 'giving of alms' to church and to the poor, is but one form of almsdeeds. The spiritual and corporal works of mercy, according to Saint Thomas Aquinas, constitute the substance of almsdeeds)
Here are some suggested things to either GIVE UP or TO DO during Lent
1a. Give up one hour of television and/or one hour of internet each day in Lent [techno-fast]
1b. Spend the same amount of time (1 or 2 hrs.) in prayer (rosary, divine mercy chaplet, reading lives of the saints, liturgy of the hours)
2a. Give up a small routine (e.g., replace tea for coffee or vice versa; drink coffee or tea without sugar or substitute and/or without milk) each day of Lent OR alternate weeks so as not to be too accustom to the practice [beverage-fast) OR give up fancy coffee drinks (lattes, cappuccinos, chai's, etc.) and drink regular or decaffeinated normal coffee for Lent OR give up afternoon cocktails
2b. Donate the equivalent amount you would have spent on specialty coffees (drinks) to your parish or diocesan lenten appeal
3a. Give up going to movies (or renting them or pay-per-view, etc.) for Lent
3b. Spend equivalent in contribution to Haiti Earthquake Relief efforts, like Catholic Charities, et al.
4a. During Lent, whenever dining in a restaurant, opt for your 3rd or 4th choice from the menu rather than the 1st or 2nd. And during Lent, send nothing back, even if the food is too hot or too cold or not enough. In other words, do not complain, just offer up the minor inconvenience. Only send back inedible or undercooked food which could harm you. Nutritious food which just doesn't taste good can still be eaten as a penance as long as it won't make us sick.
4b. Eat your least favorite vegetables in Lent rather than your favorite ones
5a. Voluntarily fast for three hours (rather than just the mandatory 1hr) before receiving Holy Communion during Lent.
5b. Spend an extra 15-30 minutes BEFORE Mass in prayerful preparation before and/or after Mass in thanksgiving.
6a. Mark off each weekday of Lent with a different devotion (e.g., Rosary on Mon.; Bible reading on Tue.; Divine Mercy chaplet on Wed.; Catechism reading on Thr.; Stations of the Cross on Fri.; Lives of Saints on Sat.) but stick to same practice every week.
6b. Spend time visiting the sick at a nursing home, hospital or shut-in. Alternatively, telephone an elderly aunt, uncle or grandparent and spend at least a half hour or more.
7a. If you already give up meat on all Fridays of the year, then during Lent consider giving up meat on all Mondays and Wednesdays as well as Fridays.
7b. If a vegetarian, then besides abstinence from meat on Fridays, abstain from non-green vegetables on Fridays OR eat your least likely and least favorite dish (e.g., for many of us, that would be Brussel sprouts) instead on this penitential day.
8a. Fast from the remote control for the TV during Lent and force yourself to physically get up and change the channel manually.
8b. Tape off the microwave during Lent and force yourself to heat everything the older, and more time consuming manner.
9a. Give up one hobby during Lent (bowling, cards, quilting, etc.)
9b. Spend same equivalent time with family and/or friends doing something wholesome and edifying (prayer, Bible study, corporal works of mercy, etc.)