Lent List: What to Give Up, What to Add, and Why

The penitential season of Lent arrives this week and it helps to review the whys of fasting, prayer and almsgiving before settling on the whats by looking over a list of possibilitites.

Why fast?

We are only as free as our ability to say No to what our appetites want us to do in order to say Yes to who we really want to be. Especially in America, where we are surrounded by whatever we want,we easily lose our freedom. “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience,” wrote Pope Francis. The only way to escape from the cycle of depressing slavery to your appetites is to fast, and decide for yourself who you will be.

Why pray?

Some people think they’re great when they really aren’t. Some people think they are no good when God disagrees. All of us tend to get our self-worth wrong on one side of the ledger or the other. Prayer is a great way to get it right. On our own, we see our lives from the ground. Prayer allows us to see our lives “from above.” When we look at our life with God, the victories we were so proud of look silly and the obstacles that scared us are no longer the dominant feature of the landscape.

Why give alms?

Fasting would easily become all about  physical self-improvement if prayer didn’t focus it on God, and prayer can easily become mere spiritual self-improvement if almsgiving doesn’t focus it on others. Almsgiving turns you away from the mirror and out toward your neighbors. The more you give, and meet and talk to people in need, through donations, meal delivery programs, soup kitchens, or homeless outreach, the more you realize that there is no religious group of special people and no subclass of terrible people. And the more you show up to help the needy, the more the world learns that the negative examples of Christianity do not define the Church. Service does.


  • A few ideas:
    • Fast with one full meal, no snacks one day a week.
    • Skip meat an extra day (or two) a week .
    • Give up alcoholic beverages.
    • Give up coffee (or reduce to one cup a day). The first week is brutal, then it gets easy.
    • Turn your phone off upon entering your home.
    • Remove all your social media apps and notifications, and don’t go there online.
    • Turn off the TV, or eliminate Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, or etc. from your phone.
    • Give up YouTube.
    • Give up Amazon.
    • Fast from music in the car.
    • Listen to Scripture or spiritual books only.
    • Fast from talk radio.


  • Pray daily:
    • Begin (or begin again) the daily Rosary.Begin (or begin again) the daily Rosary.Meditate for 10 minutes a day (get a Magnificat or find the daily Mass Gospel online).
    • Choose one extra devotion per week during Lent:
        ◦ Stations of the Cross
        ◦ Eucharistic adoration or
    .     ◦ one or more weekday Masses.
    • Do one of Father Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days do-it-yourself retreat books. (The new one is 33 Days to Greater Glory and ends with a bonus St. Joseph Novena … 33 + 9 = 42 days!)
    • Read and pray with the book Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis
    • Do the liturgy of the hours in the Magnificat.


  • Ways to give more:
    • Increase your giving to your parish.
    • Start giving to organizations you like but have neglected with donations.
    • Visit a nursing home with your children.
    • Give food, clothing and other needed items each week to organizations that collect them.
    • Volunteer with a parish group that serves shut-ins or others in need.
    • Forgive someone and patch things up in a visit, or, if necessary, by phone or letter.
    • Share a kind word to everyone you meet (or a smile).
    • Pay one significant compliment (or more!) to each of your children or others you come in contact with every day.
    • Offer to watch the children of a new mother one day a week throughout Lent.
    • Visit an elderly friend or relative.
    • Write letters to people who you know could use an encouraging note.

For Children and Teens

  • Young people … if none of the adult ideas work for you, try:
    • Do chores without complaining
    • Share your food or drink.
    • Talk to a family member who is sick or feeling down.
    • Draw pictures of Holy Week events every Friday and Sunday.
    • Restrict your TV, Internet or music time.
    • Restrict your phone time.
    • Play the game they want, not the game you want.
    • Send a letter or picture to a grandmother, aunt or Godparent.
    • Make a new friend outside your “crowd.”
    • Be a friend to a shy person.
    • Give up that bad place, person or thing.
    • Choose a favorite toy, book or piece of clothing and put it away until Easter.

Image: Wiki-media.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.