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Lent is a time for reflection

(Rev. Craig Boly, S.J,. pastors St. Pius X Church in Beaverton. The church meets at 1280 N.W. Saltzman Road. For more information, call 503-644-5264 or e-mail FatherCraig@stpiusx_pdx.org.)

Lent began on Feb. 21 with Ash Wednesday. The ashes of palm branches burned from last year's Palm Sunday were used to mark a cross on the forehead of believers. For some Christian communities, Lent is a serious time for self-examination, repentance and contrition.

Lent includes a wide variety of penitential practices. Some people 'give up' certain indulgences during Lent. Remember the practice of fasting and abstaining from meat? The discipline of giving up has sometimes come to mean eliminating chocolate or alcohol or anything else that could help reduce extra winter weight.

Lent is actually a time to look at the trajectory of our lives: where we've been, where we're going, what it all adds up to. Lent can be a time to recover our sense of direction . . . a season for God to do something new in us.

As Lent continues to unfold, I'd like to suggest some positive Lenten practices. Instead of giving up, I'd like to recommend that you 'take up' some spiritual discipline. After all, Lent is actually about opening your heart so God can work there in a new way.

What are some Lenten practices that will help open your heart? One idea is to think of one person you love very much, then another person who is difficult to love. Resolve to say a prayer for each of them for one week. Then choose another pair of persons to pray for during the next week. Repeat this exercise during the rest of the weeks of Lent.

Another idea is to start a thanksgiving journal. Each day, spend five minutes thanking God for something in your life that rejoices your heart. Then write it down. Come up with a new gratitude each day of Lent.

Still another idea is to send a note of appreciation to someone for each day in Lent. Choose former teachers, long lost friends, distant relatives, old classmates. Buy cards and stamps and mail a card daily.

Some people need to open the door of their hearts to God's Spirit by doing something healthy for themselves. One Lenten resolve may be to walk ten minutes each day. Another may be to pray for ten minutes before turning on the television. Another may be to clean out that garage.

Yes, Lent is about change - from self-concern to self-surrender. The paradox is that when you try to improve, you deepen the cycle of self-concern. God wants to free you from strategies of self-concern. Let God take care of you this Lent.