The Church and explicitly our liturgies may assist us in “making a good Lent,” but if you yourself do not make a genuine effort, do not expect much if any spiritual benefit. In the realm of the Spirit, both divine gift and human response are always intimately related: the more one gives of oneself, the more one receives of the Spirit. Mere passivity, or sloth, will not bring to you or to me the blessings of Lent; on the contrary, sloth, or spiritual laziness, will cause us to advance backwards, to fall from grace, to retreat from making genuine spiritual progress. The Church and liturgies provide us with spiritual gifts, but without genuine effort on your part, they will not profit you for salvation, or for happiness in this life.
Folks often ask, “What can the Church do for me? What is the Church doing for my children?” The answer must be: You yourself must make the effort. Each adult, each child, must make a real effort to receive spiritual benefits. The best that we have to offer is the celebration of the Eucharist together, as our common worship of God, and as our helping one another be attentive, receive, and give. What can our Eucharistic celebrations do for one who does not attend? Or if the person attends, he or she does not pay close attention?
I strongly urge each of us to think now about what we will do, not do, for Lent. Keep in mind the goal: a deeper union with Christ and with our fellow human beings through love, self-discipline, some self-overcoming. Also, remember that Sundays are not part of Lent, so any fast or food abstinence you take for Lent does not apply on Sundays.
I would rather not tell you what you do for Lent, but I make a few suggestions to help you decide what to take on, what to give up:
First, some kind of self-denial in the realm of food and drink is an ancient Catholic practice, and can be beneficial. Those who eat candy and sweets would do well to make a hard effort to avoid candy and sweets during Lent. Another form of beneficial self-discipline is to abstain from all eating between meals. Remember that on Ash Wednesday and each Friday in Lent all Catholics are required to abstain from eating meat; and Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting for all but the young, elderly, and ill.
Second, find a penance that corrects your negligences during the year. The two most important areas: increase of prayer and spiritual reading; and an increase of deeds of mercy and charity to others. Be concrete, and prepare to assist some others in their needs.