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Reflect on clearing clutter from your life this season of Lent. This update offers ways to fast from our personal habits, the clutter in our homes, our spiritual clutter and the confusion of our culture as we prepare for Easter.

Catholic Update

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Day by Day Through Lent
Fasting From Our Clutter

by Susan K. Rowland

Lent is here. Ready or not, the Big Question is always: How we are going to “do” Lent this year? May I suggest going on a fast that makes sense in this culture? Let us fast from the various types of clutter in our lives, beginning with the “outer regions” of life—our personal habits and the clutter in our homes. Then we will move to mental and spiritual clutter as the weeks progress toward Easter. We can fast from the confusion and busy-ness that characterize our culture. If we use this period to open our hearts, we will be well prepared to celebrate Easter. I offer the following ways to do that.

ASH WEDNESDAY
GETTING READY TO CLEAR MY CLUTTER

Jl 2:12-18; 2 Cor 5:20—6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18 Today’s readings give me basic instructions for the next 40 days. As a first step to clearing my heart and mind of clutter, I arrange a quiet prayer corner in which to talk to God. I find a suitable place in my home and stock it with a Bible, a notebook, pens (and this Update!). Today, and every day this Lent, I will spend time with God, reading over the Scriptures for the day, listening to what God is saying to me, and writing down what I hear.

THURSDAY: WHAT AM I GAINING—AND LOSING?

Dt 30:15-20; Lk 9:22-25 This culture urges me to do so much. In what ways is the rush and busy-ness of my life not truly necessary, but an effort to win the approval of others—in other words, to “gain the whole world”?

FRIDAY: REACH OUT TO OTHERS

Is 58:1-9a; Mt 9:14-15 Before I can reach out to those in need, I must be able to reach out. I talk to God today about areas of life where I neglect myself and compromise my health. Am I eating the wrong foods? Not getting enough sleep? Constantly stressed? Any of these habits will make me less able to serve God and God’s people.

SATURDAY: BE KIND TO MYSELF

Is 58:9b-14; Lk 5:27-32 The tax collector Levi’s change of heart came about because Jesus showed him kindness and friendship. I talk to God about any changes I should make in my self care in order to do as Jesus did. I ask for God’s help in making these changes in order to be able to do God’s will.

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FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT: CLEARING MY SURROUNDINGS OF CLUTTER

Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-15; Lk 4:1-13 I do not live “by bread alone.” If the only meaning of life was food, clothes or work, how meaningless it would be. Lent is a wonderful time to remind myself that God’s presence is what gives life meaning. I begin Lent by starting a “give away” box and praying about what I have that could be used by someone in need.

MONDAY: BE HOLY AS GOD IS HOLY

Lv 19:1-2, 11-18; Mt 25:31-46 Does clutter and disorganization interfere with my growth in holiness? Today is a good day to begin paring down. I look through my kitchen for five or more items to give away.

TUESDAY: EXPECTING THE KINGDOM?

Is 55:10-11; Mt 6:7-15 Does my home look as though I am expecting and praying for God’s Kingdom? Why or why not? I let go of more clutter by going through bookshelves for five or more books I could donate.

WEDNESDAY: A SIGN OF GOD’S LOVE

Jon 3:1-10; Lk 11:29-32 I can be a sign of God’s love to the world by living more simply and passing on my excess to those in need. Today, I gather five or more blankets, sheets or towels to give away.

THURSDAY: THE FATHER KNOWS MY NEEDS

Est C:12, 14-16, 23-25; Mt 7:7-12 Am I in the habit of asking God to provide for my needs? Today, I look through drawers, on closet shelves and in storage areas for five or more items to donate.

FRIDAY: IF I REPENT, I WILL BE SAVED

Ez 18:21-28; Mt 5:20-26 Like many in this culture, I need to repent of my excess. Today, I search through my clothes for five or more items to give away.

SATURDAY: BE PERFECT AS GOD IS PERFECT

Dt 26:16-19; Mt 5:43-48 I have gathered at least 25 items to donate. How does it feel? Do I feel relief and freedom? Grief? Uncertainty? I trust that I do not need things to be happy. Today, I take my “give away” box to a favorite charity.

SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT
CLEARING THE CLUTTER OUT OF MY WORK LIFE

Mt 17:1-9; Mk 9:2-10; Lk 9:28-36 Peter’s reaction to seeing Jesus transfigured was to do something, build something. But God tells him and us, “This is my son. Listen to him.” In a culture where what we do is valued above who we are, listening to God is sadly neglected. This week, I will pray about the “clutter” of excess doing; about busy-ness, stress, and workaholism. Do I trust God with my work? Do I see myself as loved and valuable for who I am, not what I do?

MONDAY: BLESSINGS—OVERFLOWING, POURED INTO MY LAP

Dn 9:4b-10; Lk 6:36-38 Jesus promises blessings beyond belief when I give. To whom do I give my time and energy? Is it to career, work and chores? Is there anything left for God or people? Should I reorder my priorities?

TUESDAY: HEAVY BURDENS, HARD TO BEAR

Is 1:10, 16-20; Mt 23:1-12 Is there anyone in my life who has laid a heavy burden on my shoulders? Jesus promised that his yoke is easy and his burden light (Matthew 11:30). Are my burdens God’s will or the result of human selfishness?

WEDNESDAY: WANTING THE PLACE OF HONOR

Jer 18:18-20; Mt 20:17-28 Jesus told James and John that the greatest in the Kingdom is the humble servant. How much of my busy-ness is designed to gain a “place of honor”? Do I need to revise my thinking in this area?

THURSDAY: LIKE TREES PLANTED BY WATER

Jer 17:5-10; Lk 16:19-31 What a wonderful image—a tree planted by a running stream, always nourished, never in fear of drought. It is possible to live such a life by reading God’s word and praying often throughout the day. I, too, can be refreshed and fearless, no matter what happens.

FRIDAY: PRODUCING THE FRUITS OF THE KINGDOM

Gn 37:3-4, 12-13, 17-28; Mt 21:33-43, 45-46 The Kingdom will be given to those who produce the “fruits of the Kingdom.” What kind of “fruit” is my life producing? The lasting fruit of the Kingdom, or things that will not last beyond earthly life?

SATURDAY: GOD’S ARMS ARE OPEN WIDE

Mi 7:14-15, 18-20; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32 This parable could be called the parable of the faithful father. If I have realized this week that work and busy-ness are replacing my relationship with God, it’s time to come home to my Father.

THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT
CLEARING UNFORGIVENESS FROM MY HEART

Jn 4:5-42; Jn 2:13-25; Lk 13:1-9 Jesus told the woman at the well that God’s life is like “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” If I am unwilling to forgive, this acts like a dam that blocks the flow of God’s grace. This week, I will consider whether there is anyone whom I need to forgive. God wants me to forgive them and pray for their healing.

MONDAY: JESUS’ HOMETOWN REJECTS HIM

2 Kgs 5:1-15b; Lk 4:24-30 Does it ever seem that those closest to me are the ones who respect me the least? Jesus experienced this in Nazareth. Forgiveness often has to start with those in my immediate family.

TUESDAY: HOW OFTEN SHOULD I FORGIVE?

Dn 3:25, 34-43; Mt 18:21-35 The parable of the two servants helps me put forgiveness in perspective. My debt to God far exceeds what anyone owes me. I thank God today for all the times God has forgiven me.

WEDNESDAY: FOR MY CHILDREN

Dt 4:1, 5-9; Mt 5:17-19 Passing on instruction about God’s ways to my children, grandchildren, or any children God puts in my path, is essential. Am I teaching the children around me how to forgive and love?

THURSDAY: A KINGDOM DIVIDED CANNOT SURVIVE

Jer 7:23-28; Lk 11:14-23 We are the Kingdom of God, the Body of Christ. Jesus warns that a kingdom cannot survive if it is divided against itself. Refusal to forgive others in the Church promotes disunity and division. Is there anyone in my Christian family I need to forgive?

FRIDAY: LOVING THE LORD WITH ALL MY HEART

Hos 14:2-10; Mk 12:28-34 There is no room for unforgiveness in my heart if I am loving God with all my heart. One sign that I am forgiving is when I can pray for those who hurt me. Today, I write down the names of anyone I need to forgive and ask God to bless them.

SATURDAY: COME, LET US RETURN TO GOD

Hos 6:1-6; Lk 18:9-14 Regardless of the problems I have with unforgiveness, God invites me to return to him and be healed. If I have discovered any deep problems in this area, I ask God today how to be healed. The Sacrament of Reconciliation? Professional counseling? I will not be afraid to seek help; God is faithful and wants to help me.

FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT
CLEARING THE WORRY FROM MY MIND

Jn 9:1-41; Jn 3:14-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32 I cannot be afraid to be bold or worry about what others think of me. The man born blind didn’t worry about the outcome of his case; he stood up to the Jewish leaders and lectured them. Pray this week to have that attitude and to trust God no matter what.

MONDAY: TAKING JESUS AT HIS WORD

Is 65:17-21; Jn 4:43-54 The royal official who asked Jesus to heal his son lived a day’s journey away. He headed home, believing, but he must have worried. Can I relate? Have I ever trusted God but had to wait to see the outcome?

TUESDAY: DO I WANT TO BE MADE WELL?

Ez 47:1-9, 12; Jn 5:1-16 Jesus could ask me the same question. Do I really want to trust God in everything? What would life be like if I did not worry?

WEDNESDAY: THE SON ACTS NOT ON HIS OWN

Is 49:8-15; Jn 5:17-30 If Jesus could do “nothing on his own,” surely I am even more dependent on God’s grace to overcome my problems. If worry (or anything else) is cluttering my life, I ask for God’s help. I, too, can do nothing on my own.

THURSDAY: ACCEPTING GLORY FROM OTHERS

Ex 32:7-14; Jn 5:31-47 Jesus accuses the Jewish leaders of caring more for one another’s approval than for God’s. Is that a problem in my life? I ask Jesus to help me seek God first.

FRIDAY: THE GOSSIPS OF JERUSALEM

Wis 2:1a, 12-22; Jn 7:1-2, 10, 25-30 The pilgrims in Jerusalem were having a great time gossiping about Jesus. Do I worry about what others are saying about me behind my back and want to “set the record straight”? I discuss this with Jesus, who experienced the same problem.

SATURDAY: COMMITTING MY CAUSE TO GOD

Jer 11:18-20; Jn 7:40-53 Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern, and Jesus was made fun of for doing God’s work. Doing and saying what is right often lead to persecution and ridicule. Today, I ask God to help me be strong and bold. If I am persecuted, I am in good company.

FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT
A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD—CLEAR OF CLUTTER

Jn 11:1-45; 12:20-33; 8:1-11 One characteristic of a “decluttered” relationship with God is the willingness to wait. Think of Martha and Mary. They sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was ill. Jesus did not answer their prayers the way they wanted, but what a glorious end to the story!

MONDAY: ‘WHOEVER AMONG YOU IS WITHOUT SIN …’

Dn 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62; Jn 8:1-11 Jesus was merciful and gentle to the woman caught in adultery. Is there anyone “caught in sin” that I could treat more as Jesus dealt with this woman?

TUESDAY: ‘I ALWAYS DO WHAT IS PLEASING TO GOD’

Nm 21:4-9; Jn 8:21-30 Only Jesus can say these words. But Jesus is always there to forgive if I only “look up” and give him the chance.

WEDNESDAY: ‘YOU WILL KNOW THE TRUTH …’

Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Jn 8:31-42 God shows me the truth if I stay in touch through prayer. Relationship is all about sharing. Do I share myself with Jesus and let him share himself with me?

THURSDAY: CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM

Gn 17:3-9; Jn 8:51-59 “Whoever keeps my word” is a true child of Abraham, Jesus said. How do I “keep God’s word”?

FRIDAY: ‘THE FATHER IS IN ME AND I AM IN THE FATHER”

Jer 20:10-13; Jn 10:31-42 Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, I am also “in the Father” in a deep, intimate relationship. How have I experienced this?

SATURDAY: THE EVERLASTING COVENANT

Ez 37:21-28; Jn 11:45-57 God’s deepest wish for us is: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” This is the essence of what prayer should be. How does this change my image of what my relationship with God should be?

PALM SUNDAY
FREED TO LOVE AND SERVE

Mt 26:14—27:66; Mk 14:1—15:47; Lk 22:14—23:56 Today we begin Holy Week. This week, we leave our clutter behind. We concentrate our thoughts on the love God has shown us through Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. These are important days. Plan to spend this week, as much as possible, in prayer.

MONDAY: A LOVE IMPOSSIBLE TO HIDE

Is 42:1-7; Jn 12:1-11 Is my love for Jesus as obvious and extravagant as Mary’s? The fragrance of Mary’s perfume filled the house, probably the neighborhood. Do I love Jesus with that kind of abandonment and lavishness?

TUESDAY: ‘YOU WILL DENY ME THREE TIMES’

Is 49:1-6; Jn 13:21-33, 36-38 When Peter realized his sin, he went to God, wept over his sin and said he was sorry. I am weak, but God always loves me.

WEDNESDAY: ‘MORNING BY MORNING HE WAKENS ME’

Is 50:4-9; Mt 26:14-25 Like Jesus, the faithful Servant, I should go to God every morning and begin my day talking with my Creator.

SACRED TRIDUUM

HOLY THURSDAY
WASHING ONE ANOTHER’S FEET

Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15 Jesus’ example of washing the disciples’ feet is a graphic image of how I can serve others. Washing someone’s feet is a simple gesture. In the same way, my service need not be complicated.

GOOD FRIDAY
‘OUT OF HIS ANGUISH … LIGHT’

Is 52:13—53:12; Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9; Jn 18:1—19:42 Jesus suffered agonies I cannot imagine. Yet, out of his suffering, I am forgiven and receive eternal life. Isaiah tells us Jesus has found “satisfaction” in what he has done. He is happy to have saved me! Has there ever been such a love as this?

EASTER VIGIL
‘DO NOT BE AFRAID; HE IS RISEN’

Mt 28:1-10; Mk 16:1-7; Lk 24:1-12 Alleluia! Jesus is risen. God’s love has conquered all, even death. Is there anything, really, that can make us afraid if we truly understand that? Is there anything more important?

Susan K. Rowland, a freelance writer, is the author of Make Room for God: Clearing Out the Clutter (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2007). She received her B.A. in pastoral ministry from Walsh University, North Canton, Ohio. She gives speeches, workshops and retreats on culture, clutter and spirituality.

NEXT: Jesus’ Agony in the Garden (by Ronald Rolheiser)

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