Our High School soccer coach, “Senor”, wanted to make absolutely sure that we were ready for the regular season. For the first week of practice, we never saw a soccer ball…we ran, sprinted, stretched and ran some more. The second week was focused on fundamentals; dribbling, passing, penalty kicks and some attack strategies. Finally, in the 3rd week, he allowed us to scrimmage and have a little fun. “Senor” played professional soccer with Pele in Brazil, he knew the game extremely well, and he knew how to bring out the best in each one of us. Needless to say, our team was more than ready for the regular season and we had a solid year.

Lent is the Catholic Church’s version of Spring Training for the soul. Forty days to get our soul back into shape through intense prayer, purification and charity, hopefully under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the best spiritual coach in the world.

Prayer

Jesus himself lived the first Lent during his 40 days in the desert. He chose the desert to get away from the noise and distraction of the world, he chose the desert for the solitude and silence of the sand and the lack of humanity, he chose the desert so he could whole-heartedly focus on intimate prayer and conversation with his Heavenly Father. He wanted to fully unite himself to his Father, before beginning his “regular season”, his 3 years of intense apostolic ministry and total self-giving. Every serious Lenten resolution should have a component of increased prayer and devotion. Daily Mass, Eucharistic visit, rosary, more spiritual communions, Scriptural meditation…there are so many ways to connect with Jesus, find one or two that work for you! You can’t give what you don’t have…and your family and friends most need JESUS from you.

Purification

Lent should not simply be a weight loss clinic or a time to detox your body from an unhealthy lifestyle. Ask yourself, what am I overly attached to? What unhealthy dependency am I developing that is preventing me from knowing and loving Christ more? What is getting in the way? Many people have told me that they absolutely need two or three glasses of wine to calm down before going to bed, others are not willing to give up their weekly TV show that may be enjoyable but promotes infidelity to marriage, others might need to “fast” the amount of time they dedicate to checking their Facebook or Instagram page, others may need to take the “salt” out of their daily communication and make an effort to be more kind in speech, others may try to harness their impatience or anger management, etc. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you with this one! My greatest fear in soccer was to pull a hamstring or twist an ankle…what is putting your soul most at risk?

Charity

We recently started a youth program in Connecticut with a focus on doing “Mercy in your back yard” once a month. These kids are actually enjoying it, even though it may mean getting up at 6 am to help out a soup kitchen in Port Chester, or spending their Saturday afternoon at a local nursing home. There is so much joy in giving! Every community has so many needy people and needy organizations that could use a hand. Get your hands dirty! Soup kitchens, hospitals, homeless shelters, orphanages, special needs facilities,….look around and try to give back. You will soon discover the face and beauty of Christ in these poor and marginalized souls, and be more than compensated for your outreach. Christ loves these souls in a special way, but he doesn’t have enough hands and feet that are willing to give up their time and energy to serve them.

CS Lewis reminds us, “Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have his way, come to share in the life of Christ….He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has–by what I call a “good infection.” Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of Christianity is simply nothing else.”

The Holy Spirit is the master sculptor deep within each of your souls and he is trying to bring out this image of Christ that, over time, has been covered by our selfishness, our passions and our imperfections. Ask him where you need to be chiseled! Try to collaborate with him during this Lenten period so that by dying to self, you can truly rise with Christ, into that new man and woman that he so desires and needs to see come out!