Lent is a time for prayer, interior conversion

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As Pope Francis described in his 2017 Lenten message, "Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ's victory over death.

"This season urgently calls us to conversion," he wrote. "Christians are asked to return to God 'with all their hearts' (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord."

As we begin Lent on Ash Wednesday, March 1, how do we prepare our hearts for conversion and the path to Easter? Turning toward prayer, through the Scriptures, is one solid suggestion.

"May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God's word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need," Pope Francis wrote.

Shorter Christian Prayer

Priests, deacons and many religious communities vow a commitment to reciting the Liturgy of the Hours, or Divine Office. From ancient times, the Church has had a custom of fulfilling the Lord's call to pray without ceasing.

The hymns and litanies of the Liturgy of the Hours integrate the prayer of the Psalms into the age of the Church, expressing the symbolism of the time of day, the liturgical season or the feast being celebrated, according to DivineOffice.org.

The Psalms in particular express the prayer of the Son to the Father, according to Father Nicholas Smith, director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship. "We can see Christ in the Psalms, and we're in union with Christ when we pray these Psalms," he said.

The laity also are encouraged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. The bishops at the Second Vatican Council expressed that "the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the Divine Office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, pp. 100).

For first timers, the Liturgy of the Hours is often confusing, with the large volumes and flipping of pages to follow the correct sequence of prayers. The Office of Worship recently held a workshop introducing Shorter Christian Prayer, an abbreviated version of the Liturgy of the Hours. The volume includes morning and evening prayer from the four-week psalter (Book of Psalms) and selected texts for the seasons and major feasts of the year.

Father Bill Kneemiller, a priest of the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, carried a copy of Shorter Christian Prayer with him during a recent deployment in Jordan. He described the book an easy way to integrate prayer into a person's busy life.

"The Scriptures came alive, and also breathed life into my activities, and connected with my travels and work," he wrote in a reflection. "The Scriptures are the 'living Word of God' and need to be integrated into daily activities." 

>> Lenten regulations

The Pope and the American Bishops have outlined obligatory fast and abstinence as follows:

Ash Wednesday (Wednesday March 1, 2017) and Good Friday (April 14, 2017) are days of abstinence for all Catholics over the age of 14. On these two days, fast, as well as abstinence, is also obligatory for those from the ages of 18-59. Abstinence means refraining from meat. Fast means one full meal a day, with two smaller meals and nothing between meals (liquids are permitted). No Catholic will lightly excuse himself or herself from this obligation.

All Fridays in Lent are days of abstinence from meat. Here again Catholics will not hold themselves lightly excused, but if there is a serious health problem, this obligation would not apply.

We should strive to make all days of Lent a time of prayer and penance. Following are several resources that can aid in finding different forms of prayer and penance. 

>> Lenten resources

Living the Eucharist Lenten program: www.livingtheeucharist.org

Best Lent Ever daily reflections from Dynamic Catholic: dynamiccatholic.com/bestlentever/#signup

USCCB: http://stlouisreview.com/bvK

Visit www.archstl.org/bible to follow the events surrounding The St. John's Bible in St. Louis in 2017.

The Daughters of St. Paul have copies of Shorter Christian Prayer available for purchase at Pauline Books and Media, 9804 Watson Road in Crestwood. For more information, call (314) 965-3512

The Review's Fish Fry map is available online at www.stlouisreview.com/fishfries

A presentation on Shorter Christian Prayer will take place from 12:15-1:30p.m. at the Cardinal Rigali Center, 20 Archbishop May Dr. in Shrewsbury

Read Pope Francis' Lenten message at www.st.louisreview.com/bv8 

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