4) What extras do you do (ie fasting or persistent prayer) have you done [sic] and how effective has it been for you?
4. Of late, I try to keep to meatless Fridays throughout the year (except fish and capybara, of course). I do not eat before Mass on Sundays, and I try to keep the old 3-hour fast before Mass on weekdays. If the latter doesn’t work out, I still keep the currently-in-force one hour fast. I try to pick appropriately challenging penances during Lent; they vary according to year. I have gone on retreats in the past, and look forward to going to more at some point. Recently I have rediscovered for the first time the power of Eucharistic Adoration. I have gone to two Holy Hours at the cathedral, and sometimes attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.
As to their “effectiveness”… they enrich my spiritual life, deepen my understanding of, connection to, and relationship with God and His Church, help me develop a better awareness of the unseen reality, and ground me when otherwise it feels like my life is a ship at sea during a maelstrom. “How” effective they are is not easily quantifiable. They ARE effective. Rather like grating cheese, how effective the grater is depends a lot on how much work effort I put into it. If I lightly and halfheartedly wave the cheese near the grater, nothing gets done at all. If I press firmly and work quickly, the grater is very effective and I grate all the cheese in no time. Likewise, if I merely recite words like a magic formula, putting no thought, feeling, or intent in it, then I’m not going to receive many graces from it. But if I concentrate, focus, and really put some effort into directing and devoting my thoughts to the divine, then God will give back 100 fold.
Traditional dietary regulations such as fasting and abstinence foster in me a concrete sense of religion influencing my life. Especially when I find myself in a position where the meatless options are scarce or unappealing, or not as appealing as the meat options, it reminds me that I am giving up something I enjoy, something convenient, for the sake of the glory of God. It may be a very small sacrifice in the grand scheme of things, but it makes an impact in the day-to-day, when it counts.
Choosing a personal sacrifice during Lent in addition to meatless Fridays means that I have to evaluate myself and my life in the light of holiness and spiritual growth. Just like a teacher assigning homework does so in order to consistently remind the student of the things he learned in class and reinforce those concepts, my Lenten resolution keeps in the forefront of my mind the action, sacrifice, or particular special devotion that I have set myself. It is an additional reinforcement that my beliefs affect all of my life, all the time. It reminds me of the things I need to work on – charity, attention to holy things, defeating temptation. It’s all training grounds, because they are small things, for the larger battles against stronger temptations.
Retreats are excellent because they give me a literal chance to leave all my problems behind, and put a great deal of distance between myself and distractions, worries, and worldly affairs. It gives me a chance to think about events, people, and ideas without them being in front of me, with all their biased persuading power. It also gives me a chance NOT to think about them – again, because they’re not in front of me – and instead focus on myself and God.
I’m not sure I can do justice to Eucharistic Adoration and attending the Extraordinary Form of Mass here. Perhaps I will tackle them in a later post.