How to Have a Fruitful Lent

by Helen Young


From the USSCB:

  • Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence.
  • For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.
  • Members of the Eastern Catholic Churches are to observe the particular law of their own sui iuris Church.
  • If possible, the fast on Good Friday is continued until the Easter Vigil (on Holy Saturday night) as the “paschal fast” to honor the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus, and to prepare ourselves to share more fully and to celebrate more readily his Resurrection.

How to have a transformational Lent (suggestion of Dan Burke).  Focus on two things:

  1.  Pick something you will give up during Lent ( a good thing) and which you can joyfully do again at the feast of the Resurrection
  2. Pick one thing your will retain as a spiritual focus point for the rest of the year (pray and ask the Holy Spirit to show you an area)

Getting Serious:

  1.  Make a solemn commitment and write it down
  2. Be specific
  3. Ask God for the Grace you to fulfill it
  4. Aggressively seek accountability and daily Examen

Three days until Ash Wednesday

Three days left to prepare to have the most fruitful Lent you’ve ever had!

How often do we wait until the last minute, either Tuesday night before or Ash Wednesday morning, to decide what to ‘give up’ or ‘take on’ without prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit to guide us in the right direction? We are just checking the box of being a good Catholic Christian and giving up something for Lent without stopping to think about why it is that we have this season of Lent.

What the Lord really wants from us all the time is all of our love. He wants our hearts, minds and souls – radical self-giving.   And what we mostly give Him is a little bit of affection.  Let’s be radical this Lent and pray and discern exactly where in our lives it is that we most need to let God in and the Light purify us so that we can give more of ourselves to Him and let His love change us.   Let’s examine our lives in light of these sins and see where it is we need to focus, be it:

  • gluttony (lack of control over what we eat or drink)
  • sloth (no time to pray, skipping Mass, not going to confession, spending too much time on computers or devices)
  • pride (I’m in control of my life and I don’t need to turn to God in prayer and ask for His will not mine, I have it all together and don’t need to stop and ask God what His will is, I know all of the answers to everything)
  • vanity (what others think of me is more important than what God thinks of me and controls my actions and I contort myself to please others)
  • anger (am I impatient with my family members or co-workers, do I lose my cool in traffic, do I sometimes totally blow my fuse)
  • lust (can be sexual or material, does my desire for sexual pleasure or sensual appetites control my thoughts)
  • envy (do I spend a lot of time on social media comparing my life to others and wanting what they have instead of being grateful for the many blessing God provides)

Over the next three days, let us all pick one area where we will hone in and with God’s help and the grace of the sacraments try to grow spiritually and weed out the vice and grow in virtue. 

Remember an action plan is SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.

Be specific when you write out your Lenten plan.


As an example:

I am going to work on self-control for Lent, because my root sin is sensuality, my virtue struggle is temperance, and my temperament is mostly Sanguine ( I hop from thing to thing spiritually, need focus).  I hope to get out of myself and not think about pleasure so much.  I desire to focus more on and think about God more than Helen. I also desire to be love in the community in the way God calls me to do that.  Focus on love.

  • What am I giving up?
    • I am giving up coffee (super hard)
    • I am not buying anything for myself, giving up greed
    • When I go out to eat, I will pick my second choice not my first choice
  • What am I taking on?
    • Reading I Believe in Love and Consecration to Divine Mercy
    • Praying Divine Mercy Chaplet every day (this will continue after Lent)
  • Almsgiving
    • Giving money to Hermits of Mt Carmel, Sisters in Arizona, Sisters of Life



These are some strange and unsettling times we are living in.

Are we open, closed or somewhere in the middle?

Do we wear a mask and or gloves or not?

We could not go to Mass (even enter Churches!) for 2 months, now we have Mass back in five days, but it will not look like what we are used to…

We keep our distance from other people, to “stay safe,” but inside we are slowly withering without enough human connection.

We wonder, when will things return to what they used to be?

When will churches and airports and schools and office buildings be full again?  When will we hear the laughter and pure joy of children on playgrounds? When will we celebrate weddings with more than 10 people? When will we rush up to hug a good friend without asking “are you ok with hugging?”

Social distance, masks, plexiglass dividers, gloves, temperature readers…when will these words not be the dominant topic of conversation?

I have personal answers to these questions, but this is not the forum for that.


What has been running through my head a lot recently, and what helps me tremendously, is the Serenity Prayer.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.


I first learned this prayer in Alcoholics Anonymous almost 33 years ago, and it is one of the most beautiful and at the same time practical prayers I have ever learned.  Many times, this prayer has kept me from making rash decisions, impulsive mistakes, and doing things I would later regret.

Let’s take a look at the meaning of each part of the prayer.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

In this first part of the prayer, we acknowledge who is in control and has things under control – God. Then we ask for His help in asking for serenity.  What is serenity? Serenity is peace, restfulness, stillness.  It is knowing that as Julian of Norwich said: “All will be well” and meaning it.   Knowing that Divine Providence has everything worked out and we don’t have to fix everything.  Yes, we have a role to play, we are not jellyfish to be blown about by the stormy waters, we are called to be active and engaged, but at the same time to trust and know that He is God and we are not.  God said to St Catherine of Siena “I am He who Is, and you are she who is not.”

How do we attain this serenity?  Prayer.  The Christian life without daily prayer, daily conversation with God, is dry and brittle and easily breaks apart.  A life lived with each day beginning with conversation and silent time with Our Lord is the way to serenity.  So, begin a prayer life.  (previous blog posts have talked about this and the book to read is Into the Deep by Dan Burke).  Once our relationship with God deepens in prayer, we are able to trust Him because we Know Him.  We know His ways, His teachings, His Love.  Trust comes from knowing, trust leads to serenity, where we rest in the reality that God loves us, takes care of us, and has EVERYTHING under control.  We don’t always understand His ways, because we are human and He is God, but we trust that He is holding everything in His Hands. Serenity is knowing that I don’t need to change everything, I just need to change myself – to be more like Jesus.

The Courage to change the things I can

So, what can I change?  Me.  The thing I can change is myself. How do I do that?  Pray, get to know God, ask Him to show me what I need to work on, and what his mission is for me in this life. When we can live with this posture, we will experience serenity. The Church teaches that we are all called to Holiness, it’s a Universal Call.  We are all called to Union with God – to be Saints.  This call is beautiful, yet difficult.  What does the path to Holiness look like?  The apostolate group of which I am a member, Apostoli Viae, calls this the Paradigm of Ascent. Very briefly, the path begins with three things:

  1. Regular participation in the Sacramental life – Mass and Confession
  2. Daily Mental Prayer
  3. Ascesis

To listen to podcasts where Dan Burke, author and founder of Apostoli Viae, explains the Paradigm of Ascent – click here. (

Get started today on improving and deepening your relationship with God.  This takes courage and perseverance.  It takes courage to look honestly at our lives, see what we need to change, and take the steps to change.  Ask God to give you the courage to assess where you are and if necessary make changes- to pray daily, to make the sacraments a priority in your life, to learn what it is to live mastering our passions and living a disciplined life – ascesis.

The cardinal virtue of courage, also called Fortitude, is doing the right thing, even when it’s hard, and it helps us overcome dangers, obstacles, and fear.

“To have courage, it is absolutely essential to first have your priorities straight. A man who pursues a lesser good at the expense of a greater good is not brave, but stupid. It is stupid to exchange a dollar for a penny, and it is of no profit to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul. Courage is about ordering your loves and fears so that you fear most the loss of what is truly most valuable. Only then will you be able to overcome lesser fears in carrying out what is right. Pray then to the Holy Spirit for His gift of the “Fear of the Lord,” which allows us to fear the loss of His love before all else.” (Holy Family School of Faith –

The courage to change the things I can, means to ask God for the grace to amend my life and my actions to place Him first, to love Him more, and then take that love out into the world.  I can change things within my sphere, with the people I know and interact with, and in the broader world, by the way I live.  But I cannot change you, or other people, or Church leaders, or government officials.  I can be the Light in the world, and the Light changes everything.

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

Learning the difference between what I can change and what I cannot change takes time and practice and turning our minds to God more often.  If we ask Him for direction and try to discern His Will in the decisions we make each day, we will acquire over time, the wisdom to know what is ours to take on, or what to leave to God. When we rest in the sure knowledge of God’s love for us and in His Divine Providence and we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in our daily lives as we make decisions and plan, then we will be granted the wisdom to know what we can do and we cannot do, what we are called to do and what we are not called to do, what we can change and what we cannot change.  And as our relationship with God deepens and interior lives grow, the peace, the serenity that comes from God alone, will help us to navigate storms of all shapes and sizes, from daily dilemmas to pandemics, with a “settledness,” a resting in the surety of Divine Love and hope for Eternal Life with the love of our lives – Jesus Christ.




Practice of the Present Moment

The Practice of the Present Moment

By Helen Young


A Morning Offering

God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!

It is tempting in difficult times to fret about the past and to worry about the future.  In pandemic times it is also tempting to be wary of the unknown in the present.   All of these are natural reactions to situations when we feel uncertain and fearful, when it feels like the sand beneath our feet won’t stop shifting and may in fact turn into quicksand. But what if the sand is not that on which we are to focus?  Perhaps the focus is to be on the beautiful sunrise or the sparkling water?  Both the sunrise and sparking water will be gone in an instant, and we will have missed the beauty of the moment if we only see the sand at our feet.   In order to see the colors of the sky or the dancing sun on the water we must be paying attention in the moment.  If we are distracted by the past or worrying about what comes next, we will miss the beauty.

Our Heavenly Father created the beautiful world in which we live as our temporary home, our eternal home is with Him forever in Heaven.  And Heaven will be ever so much more beautiful, brilliant, enveloping, full of so much more love than we can comprehend.  The feeling of being pierced in the heart with love of God that we experience when prayer is fruitful, or when we are fully engaged in Mass, or when having a meaningful conversation with a dear friend or spouse, or when we do something we love like painting or writing or another creative hobby, these are but a tiny glimpse of the Immense Love that will be the reality of Heaven.

How do we experience these glimpses of Heaven but in the moment?  They are powerful because we are in the moment, present to reality of that exact spot in time.  If we are not paying attention, if we become distracted, the moment is lost and like the fleeting sunrise, we will miss it.  All this is to say that God, who is outside of time and space, is in the present moment.  In every single present moment we can be with Him while we walk here on earth.  But we must be paying attention to Him.

What if the present moment involves suffering?  God became man and entered into the physical world of time and space to save us.  In the person of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, God experienced everything we experience.  Every feeling, physical, mental and emotional.  There is nowhere we can walk that Jesus has not walked.  When we suffer, we can stop in that moment, and come into the Presence of Jesus, and offer our suffering joined to his, for the salvation of the whole world, or for a specific intention.  God is with us in every moment, in joy and in suffering, we just  to tune into His frequency.  And practice makes it easier to find Him.

What does this look like in our daily lives?  A great way to start is when you first wake up, pay attention to how you feel and what you sense.  Thank God for the sleep and for waking you up for a new day. Then begin your day with prayer time in the morning, and in the prayer time begin with a Morning Offering.  In the Morning Offering we acknowledge God as Divine Providence, and ask for and hope for the openness to turn our will over to His Divine Will and then ask for the guidance and ability to live out what God wills for us and those we encounter in our day.

As we journey through the day that the Lord has given us, we can frequently turn our hearts and minds to Him, to check in, to ask again what His will is in the moment, and to express our love and gratitude to Him for all that He has provided for us – everything! The air we breathe, the lungs to breathe the air, the earth we walk on, the brains to control the bodies we live in, our souls which can connect with other people in love and with our Majestic Triune God in love.

What to do when we forget about God and get caught up in the daily chores and routines of our lives?  When you realize you have not checked in with God, do just that.  Stop for a moment, and say thank you again and enjoy the Presence of God in the moment.  And again, ask for His guidance and protection. And so, our days become many moments of touching base with the One who loves us because He made us, He loves us unconditionally and eternally.  When we check in with God moment by moment we are picking Him before ourselves and our own selfish wills.  When we check in with God, we are able to avoid sin because we stop to see where God is before we act.  When we check in with God, we are able to love others like He does, because we can first experience His love for us, and that love is so abundant it flows out into others.

Staying in the present moment with God, keeping our eyes on Him, takes practice.  Over time, if we keep trying, we will spend more of our day paying attention to Him and His will and focus less on ourselves.  This is the daily path to Union with God.  In this way we are open to receive the abundant grace that God is pouring out all the time.  In order to receive the grace we must: be paying attention to Him, have open hearts to receive the grace, and have open minds to understand His will and what that looks like in the world.  God’s aim is always to bring all of us into His loving embrace.  He desires that each of us who know Him and love Him take the good news of the Gospel and the Light out into the world.  The daily way to light the fire within is the practice of the present moment – checking into the Eternal Flame all through out the day helps us to keep the fire bright and strong.  With our torches lit we can then bring the Light of Christ to our brothers and sisters.

“One of the essential conditions of interior freedom is the ability to live in the present moment. For one thing, it is only then that we can exercise freedom. We have no hold on the past—we can’t change the smallest bit of it. People sometimes try to relive past events considered failures (“I should have done this . . . I should have said that . . .”) but those imaginary scenarios are merely dreams: it is not possible to backtrack. The only free act we can make in regard to the past is to accept it just as it was and leave it trustingly in God’s hands.”
– Fr Jacques Phillipe,
Interior Freedom, p.81

“We may spend our whole lives waiting to live. Thus we risk not fully accepting the reality of our present lives. Yet, what guarantee is there that we won’t be disappointed when the long-awaited time arrives? Meanwhile we don’t put our hearts sufficiently into today, and so miss graces we should be receiving. Let us live each moment to the full, not worrying about whether time is going quickly or slowly but welcoming everything given us moment by moment.”
Interior Freedom, pp.90-91