The Last-Minute Guide to Lent

If you’re anything like me, Ash Wednesday usually sneaks up on you, such that you’re scrambling to figure out what you’re “giving up” halfway through the first week of Lent — and then it’ll be something poorly thought out that doesn’t seem to do much along penitential lines.

So for my fellow procrastinators, I’ve done some poking around and found a few Lenten guides to help make this season a fruitful one. It’s never too late for a few good ideas:

  • Mary’s Aggies has an “annual Lenten mega-post” that covers everything you could possibly want to know about Lent, including concrete answers to common questions, suggestions for penances, and more links to other Lenten lists than you can shake a stick at. If you’re looking for anything Lent-related, you can probably find it here.
  • Reader Jen recommends Father John Hardon, S.J., and his guides to Lent. Here, he describes the meaning and goal behind our Lenten disciplines, offering concrete suggestions for helping to attain them. He also has a more in-depth reflection on what penance and reparation specifically are all about, and a step-by-step guide for fully embracing them. Neither article is long, and they both better explain why penance means more than just giving up chocolate.
  • Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary has a good list of books for Lenten spiritual reading options. If you need a little more structure, Father Jerabek has put together themed, guided Lenten reading plans, with specific readings mapped out for each day. Finally, Vivificat has posted a huge collection of free downloads of writings by the saints and other Church theologians. For free, people — so now you have no excuses not to do it.
  • 40 ways to improve your Lent. Lots of great, one-off ideas that don’t necessarily need to be sustained through the whole season, but which can give you a little easy variety in your prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. 
  • Via Mark Shea: An online retreat in the form of a blog based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. Each day of Lent (and extending through Divine Mercy Sunday), this group of Jesuits from around the country will post mini meditations to give readers an introduction to Ignatian spirituality.
  • Father Longenecker has some words of encouragement for us to “do something radical and beautiful for God” this Lent. It opens by explaining how he once turned a ten-year-old into a hermit (though he doesn’t recommend something quite this radical for everyone).
  • Read David Bonagura on “Ash Wednesday in the Public Square” on the home page.

Have other resources, books, or suggestions that have helped you? Be sure to leave them in the comments.

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  • Margaret Cabaniss

    Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at

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