Once upon a time, I ministered in a large parish that had a big pastoral staff.  (Don’t you just love it when stories begin with “once upon a time”?) It so happened that there were two staff members who didn’t get along very well. Honestly, they didn’t get along at all. I think they quarreled privately, but when others were around, they ignored each other and would enlist a third party, like me, to relay messages to one another – kind of the equivalent of, “tell your father to pass the salt.”  It got so bad that the pastor hired a facilitator not once, but twice, to see if he, the facilitator, could broker a peace deal. It didn’t work. Oh sure, they’d talk to each other and play nice for a while, but inevitably something would happen, and the “Cold War” would start all over again. 

I don’t remember who thought of the idea, but someone on staff came up with this ingenious proposal: the staff’s Lenten goal would be that we’d all be on speaking terms by the time we arrived at Easter Sunday. And, by golly, it worked! Anytime things got a little tense and it felt like a fight might break out, someone would say, “Remember the goal”, and flaring tempers would ease. We were able to do on our own what a trained counselor couldn’t achieve. 

We are rapidly approaching the beginning of the Lenten season. Lent is a good time for us to take stock of how we are doing in our spiritual life. Typically, we are called to focus on three things: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Now might be a good time to consider the goals you should set for yourself to make this Lenten season one that prepares you for the joy of the resurrection on Easter Sunday and the great 50 days of the Easter season. 

When we think of fasting during Lent, our minds go the fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and the abstinence from meat on Lenten Fridays.  But are there other things that you could fast or abstain from? Often folks “give up” candy, ice cream, or soda, but why not give up something that will enhance your spiritual journey? You could abstain from things like gossip, anger, or road rage. 

In addition to Lenten sacrifices, enrich your spiritual life by attending daily Mass, stations of the cross, or meditating on the Sunday gospel. Join a scripture study group or commit to quiet daily prayer. 

Almsgiving is the practice of giving to others. While our financial contributions to the mission of the church are important, almsgiving is not only about money, but also our time and talent. Perhaps you could perform a service or random act of kindness daily, doing something for someone and expecting nothing in return. You could volunteer at a nursing home, senior center, or food pantry. Your opportunities for giving to others are endless! 

On Palm Sunday we will enter into the most sacred and solemn time of the liturgical year – Holy Week.  We will hear Mark’s Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We will retrace His steps to Golgotha and we will stand at the foot of the Cross. We will recall the suffering and death of Christ, who died that our sins might be forgiven. And as we walk the way that our Savior walked, we should ask ourselves this question – did we remember the goal? Did we practice the disciplines of fasting, charity, and almsgiving? Did we identify aspects of ourselves that are less than Christ-like and let them die? As we journeyed through Lent, did we find ourselves closer to Christ and  changed by that encounter?

Many years after my staff’s Lenten goal achievement, I ran into the facilitator who had come to lend his aid. I reminded him of the time he spent with our parish staff and the work he’d done to help heal wounds. He asked me if it had helped. We both laughed when I said, “Nope”.  But maybe it did work. Maybe he planted seeds that took time to take root and grow. Maybe the Holy Spirit was at work in a way that we couldn’t see. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a Lenten lesson here. We cannot completely transform ourselves in 40 days. That’s why we celebrate Lent every year. But we can remember our personal goals. We can remember that helped by God’s grace, we and we alone, have the ability to transform ourselves so that we may love like Christ, who suffered and died that we might have eternal life. So, remember the goal!  That, my friends, is the Good News!

As St. Paul reminds us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Rom 12:1-2).Anchor columnist Ada Simpson is former editor of Ministry and Liturgy magazine, holds an M.A. in Pastoral Ministry, and is the director of Music Ministry at St. Francis and St. Dominic parishes in Swansea.