Due to sickness, the priest who was to give a talk to a group of students last night was unable to attend and, upon the suggestion of a student in Gospel Explorations, I was invited to fill in. I had a really nice time chatting with the students and spent a great deal of time listening to them articulate their experience(s) of faith as college students.
A quick poll indicated that every one of the students gathered owned an iPod. What I extended to them as advice for this season of Lent I will extend here as well:
Often enough, we judge our Lenten journey on what we have given up. Surely, there is much to be said by the asceticism of denying oneself sweets or alcohol or refraining from swearing. But I think that the time of Lent can also be a period of deepening our relationship, of taking a little bit of time each day in order to place ourselves more closely by the side of Christ.
I would suggest that this season each of us try to make some time for prayer. The website run by the British Jesuits - Pray as You Go - has daily reflections that can be downloaded to your iPod or listened to on your computer.
These are short, ten-minute opportunities to spend time listening to and reflecting on the Word of God. Perhaps as you are preparing for bed, as you wind down from the day, as you take the train to work you could listen to these reflections in order to cultivate a better sense of your relationship with God.
In light of what I wrote several days ago, I would say that the great temptation of Lent is to turn it into a Herculean contest of who can "give up more" or "do more penance." In all of our "doing" we often neglect the deeper, affective, commitment of faith - the reality that the Lord desires to be in relationship with each of us. It is only in prayer, in making the time and disposing ourself to be in God's presence, that we can be participate in this relationship. Recall that it is in and through prayer that we relax into the presence of the One who awaits us, that we nestle ourselves into the arms of the Holy One who has been waiting for us (for some time now!) to come home. When we pray, when we truly pray from the essence and marrow of our lives, we open ourselves up toward the loving embrace of God. Prayer is not a "going out of my way to do something for God" but, rather, the sublime act of "getting out of the way of myself and allowing God to enter into my chaos."
In short, I would encourage a greater dedication toward prayer this Lenten season. Let the horizontal journey with Christ toward Calvary be expanded and deepened through prayer by entering into the mysterious and profound love God has for us, expressed in Immanuel - God with us - and accessible to all who open themselves to it.