As Christians, and particularly Catholics, in the Twin Tiers begin this season of Lent, many are probably still trying to figure out what to give up or what type of devotions to engage in as a way to strengthen their walk with Christ.
One thing they should not do is to approach any Lenten observance strictly as a means of "improving themselves" in a mundane way. For example, if someone is overweight and decides to give up eating between meals for Lent because he wants to lose a few pounds just to look and/or feel better physically, then the focus is wrong.
Giving up eating between meals can be good for one's health, both physical and spiritual. For such a discipline to be a proper Lenten exercise, the chief purpose has to be that of focusing on God as the person's true source of strength, especially when those minor hunger pangs begin.
The same can be said for prayer and almsgiving, which are the other two disciplines most highly encouraged throughout Lent. Engaging in either or both disciplines can make people feel better about themselves, but again, that should not be the primary reason for taking part in such an observance.
What are some ways that a person can focus his attention more clearly on his walk with Christ than on the observance itself or the "good feelings" that might result?
Probably the best way to start is by asking God sincerely for the grace to focus on one's relationship with Him during the observance. Remember, just as the Epistle of James points out (4:3), simply asking isn't enough; the proper disposition must be there as well.
After requesting God's help in the matter, try to keep in mind the passage from Matthew 25: 31-40, in which Jesus explains that He is helped each time "the least of [His] brothers" is helped.
There are many such opportunities to help "the least of His brothers." One need not travel to a big city to find people who are hungry, thirsty, homeless, etc., to care for.
Head to the local hospital, such as St. Joseph's in Elmira (stjosephs.org), Soldiers & Sailors in Wellsboro (laurelhs.org), or Charles Cole in Coudersport (charlescolehospital.com); or nursing home (swedenvalleymanor.com; elcorhealthservices.com; laurelhs.org/Main/TheGreenHome.aspx) and ask to visit someone who has not received visitors in a while.
Ask your pastor if you can accompany him on his visits to people's homes during communion calls, or to the local prison during his ministry sessions there.
Volunteer at a child daycare center (chemchildcare.com; others at yellowpages.com) or at a soup kitchen (elmirablessedsacrament.org/ElmiraAreaPantries.html).
Some of those efforts often require criminal clearances beforehand. So be it. Lent is a six-week observance, and most clearances are performed in less than half that amount of time. The cost of having a clearance performed is minimal, usually ten to twenty dollars. Consider that as part of your almsgiving if you wish, especially if it is to help you with your Lenten mission.
Finally, if one truly wants to strengthen his walk with God, he will commit himself to continue his observance even after Lent has ended.