Let us choose a fruitful Lenten penance Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes

Years ago a priest walked through a dark alley in a dangerous part of town. Suddenly a robber emerged from the darkness and pointed a gun at his back.

"Your money or your life," the robber ordered. The priest turned to give the robber his money.

The robber recognized that he was a priest by his Roman collar and exclaimed, "Oh Father, I didn't know it was you! I would never rob a priest!"

To show his gratitude, the priest said, "Here, have a cigar!"

"No thanks, Father," the robber replied, "I gave up smoking for Lent!"

Obviously for his Lenten penance the robber should have chosen a more fruitful Lenten penance. He should have given up robbing people instead of giving up smoking!

Growing closer to Christ

During Lent, the Church invites us to look honestly at our relationship with Christ and choose a fruitful penance that will help us to became a more Christ-like person.

On Ash Wednesday, we receive a cross of ashes to remind us that when we die, we will return to dust. While we still enjoy the gift of life, we are to "repent and believe the good news." To repent means to turn from sin so we can turn more fully to Christ.

The Ash Wednesday Gospel reminds us that we can choose a penance of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to help us grow closer to Christ and renew our baptismal promises with deepened faith at Easter.

Fasting that changes  our hearts

During Lent, we are called to fast and abstain from food and drink according to Lenten regulations.

In his March 3, 2017 Lenten homily at Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis quoted Isaiah 58:6-8, which reveals that God wants fasting that changes our heart and results in freeing those bound unjustly, sets free the oppressed, breaks every yoke, shares bread with the hungry, shelters the oppressed and homeless, clothes the naked, does not turn away from our own, and other works of mercy.

During Lent, we can also fast from controlling others, gossip, unjust criticism, and resentments. We can fast from poor listening and try to listen better to family, friends, co-workers, and others.

We can fast from complaining about what we don''t have and appreciate what we have. We can fast from being judgmental and impatient and try to be more patient and charitable.

Prayer during Lent

Prayer is another fruitful Lenten penance. Prayer opens us to grace and strengthens us to see and respond to the needy.

We can do spiritual reading, participate in Mass, pray the Rosary, and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We can attend Lenten talks and devotions or go on a retreat.

Practicing almsgiving

We can help our country and other countries recover from tragedies. We can help sponsor a Third World child, contribute to food pantries, visit shut-ins, volunteer at homeless shelters, or participate in pro-life activities.

We can help the poor in our midst who need physical and spiritual support and encouragement.

Family Lenten practices

As their children's primary religious educators, parents should encourage them to choose a Lenten penance as part of a family.

Family prayer helps to bring families closer together and closer to heaven. Fr. Patrick Peyton, the "Rosary priest," stated, "The family that prays together, stays together."

Parents can make Fridays of Lent a special reminder of Christ's sacrificial love for their children. The family can also attend Mass, do the Stations of the Cross, pray the Rosary, contribute to a Lenten poor box, sponsor a Third World child, or visit a shut-in, senior citizen, or retired priest.

A journey of hope

On March 1, 2017 in his Ash Wednesday homily, Pope Francis said that while Lent is certainly a time of mortification, it's also a journey of hope that requires both daily sacrifice and love and leads to the joy of Christ's Resurrection. "Our salvation is certainly God's gift, but, because it's a story of love, it requires our 'yes' and our participation."

We are pilgrims on a journey through time. Earth is our temporary home. Heaven is our eternal home. We are given a certain amount of time, talent, and treasure that Jesus wants us to use to help to bring about the kingdom.

Lent gives us time once again to die to our old sinful ways and rise with Jesus to a new fruitful way of life so that at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night, when we renew our baptismal vows, we will also have renewed our lives.

Let us resolve to continue the spiritual progress we made during Lent so we can bear the good fruit of the Gospel on earth and enjoy the gift of heaven.


Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.