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America StaffFebruary 12, 2024

Lent is around the corner.Take some inspiration from America’s staff as you decide what to give up (or take on) as we journey to Easter.

  1. Chocolate
    Tried and true. You aren’t competing in the penance Olympics. A small sacrifice, sure, but it’s directly tied to the chocolate that so many of us get in our Easter baskets. – Zac Davis
  2. Fidgeting with your wedding ring
    My spouse would really appreciate this one. Every time you catch yourself doing it, say a prayer to St. Anthony in gratitude for lost items he has found for you in the past and will find for you in the future. – Zac Davis
  3. Buying lunch at work
    Make a small fast from convenience by packing your lunch, and donate $15 at the end of each week to a charity of your choice. That’s probably less than you’re already spending, and I promise they need it more than your local Pret a Manger. – Delaney Coyne
  4. Television
    Pope Francis has done it for the last 34 years. Try doing it for 40 days without going insane. – Michael O’Brien (Do sports count? – Zac Davis)
  5. Soda
    America lunches are famous for the countless Diet Cokes consumed by our editors; I’m swapping out sodas for seltzers this Lent. – Michael O’Brien
  6. Elevators (where safe and possible)
    I worked for a bishop who never took the elevator all year. What’s 40 days? – J.D. Long García
  7. Sugar in your coffee
    If you take sugar, stop. If you don’t, start. – J.D. Long García
  8. Added salt
    Be the salt of the earth. Don’t eat it. – Ashley McKinless
  9. Swearing
    No salty language either. – Ashley McKinless
  10. Listening to music and podcasts
    If you find yourself always reaching for your headphones to turn on background noise, make some more space in your life for silence this Lent. (I did this last year, and while the AirPod-less commutes to work were initially excruciating, I bought myself a few more minutes in the day to pray and reflect.) – Molly Cahill
  11. The snooze button on your alarm clock
    Let the first penance of your day be hopping out of bed the first time the alarm sounds. And use the extra time wisely—spending it with God or loved ones. – Molly Cahill
  12. Taking photos
    I always get a little bit sad when I’m at a concert, historic site or majestic landscape and everyone is looking at it through their phone. This Lent, you can try to be more present to the people and beauty around you by putting down the phone and thanking God for the gift of that special, fleeting moment. – Ashley McKinless
  13. Doomscrolling
    Fellow Gen-Z-ers, I’m looking at you. Sometimes there’s nothing better than some phone time in bed after a long day, but try swapping TikTok with some Twain or Instagram with Ishiguro for a truly enriching Lenten experience. – Michael O’Brien
  14. Do: Tell people you’re grateful.
    This Lent I’m texting 40 people (one each day) to let them know that I’m grateful for them. Just a quick message in the morning before I head out the door. Bonus (if you’re brave): Blindly scroll through your contact list and let the Spirit decide. – Christine Lenahan
  15. Do: Persist with a spiritual practice that’s difficult for you.
    I can be a wildly inattentive person, and for this reason, I have always struggled to pray the rosary. I forget where I am midway through, and I end up quitting. This Lent, I’m trying to move past that fear of failure and praying one every day. – Delaney Coyne
  16. Hot Showers
    This practice was popularized by Exodus 90, which famously instructs giving up this modern luxury for 90 days. I tried it for 40 days amid a flurry of pious bravado back in high school. My results back then were to take fewer showers. Maybe you’ll have more luck. – Zac Davis
  17. Wordle
    While I can find it difficult to stick with a consistent prayer routine, I am quite diligent about keeping my Wordle streak going. Swap your six chances to solve the day’s puzzle with six Hail Marys. – Ashley McKinless
  18. Do: Put your phone into Grayscale.
    You’d be surprised by how much less addictive your phone seems when it’s not bright and colorful. Try resetting it for 40 days and see if your relationship to your phone changes. (A guide for this on an iPhone: Settings → Accessibility → Display & Text Size → Color Filters (ON) → Grayscale.) – Molly Cahill
  19. Alcohol 
    For those who just completed Dry January, here’s another challenge for you; keep the booze on the barcart for the next 40 days. You’ve already shown yourself that you can! – Michael O’Brien
  20. Do: No Spend Lent
    O.K., you’ll need to spend some money on essentials—and that’s fine! But finding areas where you can cut expenses or go without your little treats and luxuries is a noble challenge. And you can make a thoughtful, charitable decision about how to share the money you’ve saved when Easter comes. – Molly Cahill
  21. Do: Spiritual book club
    Grab a few friends and choose a book with spiritual themes to read and discuss together. Maybe take this opportunity to try something a bit denser and chip away at it slowly for 40 days. (I had some luck reading ~30 pages of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables each day.) Don’t rush to finish; let the themes sink in! – Molly Cahill
  22. Do: Journal as a form of prayer
    The best thing about writing down what comes up for you in prayer is that after the moment passes, you can revisit it again by reading it later. Look for patterns that appear again and again, and you’ll get better at noticing God’s hand in your day. – Molly Cahill
  23. Coffee
    Awake, o sleeper, without your morning jolt of caffeine this Lent. Giving up a regular morning (or multiple times a day) habit that we rely on can be hard, but doing so can help us instead turn more fully toward the God who gives us life. Bonus: Your giving up coffee might be a Lenten penance for the people around you, too. – Kerry Weber
  24. Do: Reach out
    Reach out to a friend, colleague, past colleague or family member each day to say hi and I am thinking of you—and it has to be 40 different people! Maybe it’s someone you don’t talk to often, or someone you want to forgive or just a friend that you haven’t invested much time in recently. – Heather Trotta
  25. Do: Read the daily Gospel.
    Sometimes it can be hard to know what to pray “about.” But reading the daily Gospel is always a great way to enter into prayer and to follow Jesus, not only throughout Lent but the whole year. – James Martin, S.J.
  26. Do:Download The Word App.
    Yes, that’s right! We have an app for America’s daily Scripture reflections. The Word app is the perfect way to include some spirituality in your everyday life or supplement your Lenten commitment to prayer. – Christine Lenahan
  27. Do: Be kind.
    Look, we all sometimes feel that we have the right to be mean. Someone has cut in line before us on the subway. Or said something nasty to us. Now, we’re not meant to be doormats, but that also doesn’t mean that we need to be mean. For Lent, leaning into kindness can be the start of a whole new life. Being kind isn’t all of the Christian life, but it’s a big part. – James Martin, S.J.
  28. Do: Strive to get 7,000-10,000 steps per day.
    Movement is key and a way to get out in the world and see the beauty God has created for us. Plus it gives you time to pray, listen to an enriching podcast or reflect while being in nature. – Heather Trotta
  29. Do: Pray the Rosary.
    Pray (at least) a decade of the rosary each day reflecting on the mysteries and the faithfulness of the Blessed Mother. – Alessandra Rose
  30. Being on your phone while hanging out with your kids
    I know, you’re exhausted. But you’ll never get this time with them back! Plus, you’ll be setting a good example. (FaceTiming grandma and grandpa together is still allowed.) – Colleen Dulle
  31. Leaving dishes in the sink
    O.K., I’m writing this for myself. But doing the dishes can be surprisingly prayerful! It’s a small sacrifice of leisure time that can turn your mind to God—and hopefully off of how messy the kitchen is. – Colleen Dulle
  32. Ignoring homeless people
    Look, you don’t have to give everyone money. But saying “good morning” is free, and it helps remind you—and them—that we all have God-given dignity. – Colleen Dulle
  33. Speeding
    Grow in patience, use less gas, drive safer. It’s a win-win-win. – Colleen Dulle
  34. Unnecessary electricity consumption
    Turn off the lights in rooms you’re not in. Read a book instead of watching TV. Set the heater five degrees cooler or the A/C five degrees warmer. Better yet, crack open a window. – Colleen Dulle
  35. Working outside work hours
    This one’s for all the workaholics. Sign off when work is over for the day, and don’t check emails again until the next morning. Can’t commit to it every day? Try kicking it Old Testament style—no work on Sundays. – Colleen Dulle
  36. Do: Say yes to something new.
    Lent reminds us that life is short. While it can be easy to spend 40 days in your comfort zone, try saying yes to something new and exciting once a week, just something small to spark joy. – Christine Lenahan
  37. Do: Buy two.
    Buy a second morning bagel/muffin/banana on your way to work and give it to the homeless person you see every day on your commute. – Cynthia Hornblower
  38. Space heaters I don’t need to make my bedroom warmer and contribute to global warming which will tempt me to use my air conditioner more in the summer. – Robert Sullivan
  39. Meat (or just red meat)
    The alternatives to fast food or prepared food can be costlier or harder to find, but it’s good to get in the habit of challenging the food industry instead of accepting the choices they make for you. – Robert Sullivan
  40. Do: Turn on your phone.
    If you already ignore your phone or turn the ringer off almost all the time, you’re not giving up anything by doing so for Lent. So, consider picking up the phone immediately if a friend or family member calls to ask for help or just to talk. – Robert Sullivan
  41. Anger
    With the idea of becoming a better father and husband, I have tried (with varying success) to be more mindful of my temper, which has been epigenetically well-seasoned by centuries of Irish tenant farming, and to “give up” that awful dopamine rush experienced when surrendering to wrath. – Kevin Clarke (I did this once too and it changed my life! – Michael Simone, S.J.)
  42. Ingratitude
    Try to remain mindful not of the deficits in your life but of the many gifts and consolations always right before your eyes and thus often taken for granted. – Kevin Clarke
  43. Do: Pray for other drivers on the road.
    Sometimes I catch a glimpse of someone’s face through a windshield, and I am struck by the multitude of lives moving in every direction on the street each day. Say a silent prayer for that person, wherever their journey takes them. – Kerry Weber
  44. Do: Pray for a person on public transportation, too! 
    Pick a stranger on the subway (or your preferred means of public transportation) and say a silent prayer for them. Mine usually looks something like this: “Dear God, please let that person get to their destination safely and experience your goodness today.” You’d be surprised how much easier it is to stand on a hot and crowded subway when you focus your attention on prayer, rather than the struggles of public transport. – Christine Lenahan
  45. Missing Mass
    It is hard to admit this, but I have become a bit of an irregular Mass attendee for lots of reasons, but for not a lack of faith. In Learn to Pray, James Martin, S.J., writes that wanting to be closer to God is a good first stepin your faith journey. – Lindsay Chessare
  46. Watch more movies
    To me, watching films can be a spiritual act. In a time when long-form media is dying off and attention spans are whittling down, going to the movies can be a form of meditation and self-care. – Kevin Robles
  47. Do: Send your 2023 Christmas letter.
    We all know December gets busy and stamp costs add up quickly. Unburden yourself of this paralyzing guilt. At last, send out your long-overdue letter and spread some Lenten cheer. – Sebastian Gomes
  48. “The Bible in a…Lent”: Father Mike Schmitz helped us all achieve a herculean feat with his podcast “The Bible in a Year.” If you’re not living a monastic life, it’s probably not possible to read the entire Bible in 40 days, but try reading the New Testament cover-to-cover in what America’s calling, “The New Testament in a Lent.” – Sebastian Gomes
  49. Do: Go carbon neutral.
    Lent is about reconciliation and the right relationship with God. The earth and its many creatures are groaning in pain. Start by assessing your lifestyle with an online carbon calculator. – Sebastian Gomes
  50. Do: Walk as much as you can.
    Commit to walking anywhere that’s less than two miles away. It’ll take some planning, but the benefits from the extra exercise and time in the sun are well worth it. Plus, you’ll save money on gas and public transit fares. – Delaney Coyne
  51. Do: Set aside (at least) an hour per day to read.
    If you think you don’t have time for this kind of commitment, go into your iPhone settings and check your screen time. Replacing scrolling with reading is good for your brain, your health and your soul. – Delaney Coyne
  52. Credit cards (and Apple Pay)
    Studies show that people tend to buy more expensive items and make more impulse buys when they are using a credit card. For Lent, set a weekly spending limit, take out that much money in cash, and donate the money you save by not throwing the extra snack into your grocery cart to your charity of choice. – Ashley McKinless
  53. Credit card rewards
    Figuring out how to best leverage reward points can be a way of feeling frugal, or at least clever, under the cover of materialism. And the points are arguably a benefit for higher-income spenders on the back of fees paid by people who are less fortunate. Even if you don’t get rid of them, consider turning your rewards into alms during Lent. – Sam Sawyer, S.J.
  54. Plastic straws
    This one is for all my fellow iced coffee drinkers. Swap that plastic straw for the sip-lid or purchase a pack of metal or glass reusable straws. When you order a drink, just say “No straw, please!” and think of all the sea turtles who will be thanking you for years to come. – Christine Lenahan
  55. Dating apps
    Sure, it can be fun to swipe to your heart’s content (Valentine’s Day is coming up), but Tinder and other dating apps can be a mindless affair. Take more risks and be more intentional—strike up a conversation with someone who catches your fancy in person! – Michael O’Brien
  56. Stop posting on social media.
    Detox from the dopamine rush of getting “likes” on your social media posts. Spend 40 days living an authentic, unfiltered life away from your social profile. – Christine Lenahan
  57. Turn off push notifications.
    These little incursions are attention thieves. Stay focused and present to the tasks and people around you. – Zac Davis
  58. Election news
    You will have plenty of time to fret over the 2024 election in the fall. Take a break from obsessing over the latest polls and campaign stunts. – Ashley McKinless
  59. Ordering take-out or delivery
    Eat healthier and save money by eating in. Bonus: See how long you can go without grocery shopping by getting creative with those canned green beans that have been sitting in the back of your pantry. – Ashley McKinless
  60. Judging other peoples’ Lenten sacrifices
    Odds are that if you’ve gotten this far, you’ve already deemed some of these do’s and don’ts too stringent or too lax. Stop it. Be curious instead, as Ted Lasso says. Encourage people. Leave the judging to God. – Kerry Weber
  61. Ordering coffee
    Give up the morning coffee that you buy at Dunkin’ or Starbucks and make it at home. Take all the money you’ve saved and put it in the collection basket at Easter Mass. – Cynthia Hornblower
  62. Do: Read more of “The Greats”
    So many spiritual insights can be gleaned from the literary greats. Whether you go back to St. Augustine’s Confessions or you read a more recent spiritual text, like Frank Herbert’s Dune, Lent may be the time to finally dive into these classics. – Kevin Robles
  63. Do: Tip
    Tip according to the needs (and simple human dignity) of essential workers, not according to whether you felt pampered enough. – Robert Sullivan
  64. Do: Declutter
    Get rid of at least one clutter-prone thing a day to make space for the things that really matter in life. Give it to someone in need, recycle it, or find a way to reuse it. – Heather Trotta
  65. Do: Rest
    Pay attention to your current sleep hygiene and consider adopting new practices that will support fuller rest (i.e., putting your phone on sleep mode an hour before bed). – Maggi Van Dorn
  66. Do: Go to confession.
    And maybe go more than once. Catholics are only obligated to go to confession once per year, but it never hurts to go more often. I always feel heavy going in and much lighter coming out. – Kerry Weber
  67. Do: Stay off all screens one day of each week.
    No explanation is needed. – Joe Hoover
  68. Do: Write that novel.
    One could say that nothing brings you closer to God than the act of creation. To that effect, Lent might be the perfect time to finally put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and write that novel you’ve been wanting to write all this time. Or if your preferred art form isn’t writing, , that painting you’ve been wanting to paint or song you’ve been wanting to compose. God could be waiting for you once you finish! – Kevin Robles
  69. Do: Support local businesses.
    Instead of using your rewards at Starbucks, bite the bullet and spend the extra cash to buy your coffee from local cafes. And forgo going to the AMC or Regal; go to your local independent cinema, even if it’s just a one-screen place showing “Casablanca.” After all, helping “the little guy” is a classic spiritual practice. And those cafes probably have better coffee anyway. – Kevin Robles
  70. Do: Liturgy of the Hours
    It’s the “prayer of the church,” and while religious women and men make a particular commitment to it, absolutely everyone is welcome to pray this way. I wouldn’t try to go from a standing start to praying as much as the Trappists, but pick one of the hours (morning, evening or night) and pray with the Psalms and with the church. – Sam Sawyer, S.J.
  71. Uber
    I know we’ve all been there: It’s late, you’re exhausted and the prospect of a 15-minute wait at the subway station feels like the worst thing ever. But using public transportation helps support local government and is much better for the environment. So when you’re thinking of ordering an Uber, remember “Laudato Si’.” – Kevin Robles
  72. Do: Give up the Oxford comma…
    and share in the suffering of the many America  editors who would prefer that our house style include it. – Sam Sawyer, S.J.
  73. Do: Go to more community meetings.
    Nothing affects your neighborhood more than your city council or local community board. Get engaged with them and spend a little bit of your day looking at the issues facing your stretch of streets and avenues. You may realize that you have a capacity for civic responsibility that you didn’t know before! – Kevin Robles
  74. Do: Volunteer
    Is there anything more Christ-like than volunteering at a local soup kitchen, homeless shelter or temporary housing for migrants? – Kevin Robles
  75. Do: Reply to old emails.
    Most of us have an email or two or two hundred moldering in the inbox that we feel ashamed about not responding to—and that can keep us from ever replying. Pick one of those emails, type an apology to start (contrition is good for the soul) and reconnect with someone. – Sam Sawyer, S.J.
  76. Do: Pray for your parish priest.
    Maybe his homilies are too long. Or he says the Our Father too slowly. But your priest is probably overburdened and might be lonely. So dedicate a prayer to him each Sunday this Lent as we approach the busiest time of the liturgical calendar. – Ashley McKinless
  77. Do: Take part in a synod listening session.
    Dioceses across the United States have been asked to hold additional listening sessions for the synod on synodality over the next couple of months. Take advantage of this opportunity to listen to the hopes and concerns of your fellow Catholics and to share your own. – Ashley McKinless
  78. Keurig Pods
    Make better coffee, slower. In addition to reducing waste, you’ll taste how good coffee can really be (seriously, so much better than quick-brew) and celebrate God’s gift of the arabica bean. Use the few minutes while you’re waiting for the water to boil and the coffee to brew to thank God for the new day. – Sam Sawyer, S.J.
  79. Do: Pray the Morning Offering.
    This is a long-standing practice of devotion to the Sacred Heart, consecrating all our “prayers, works, joys and sufferings” to God at the beginning of the day. As a bonus, you also pray for and with the monthly intention of the Holy Father. A kids version is available too! -Sam Sawyer, S.J.
  80. Do: Active activism
    We all have causes we support, but so often we murmur our support from the sidelines. Maybe it’s time to finally bring out the markers and boards and start supporting causes right in the thick of things! – Kevin Robles
  81. The Blame Game When things go wrong, it’s always easy to find someone (or something) else to blame. When you make a mistake this Lent (and we all will), own it and apologize. It’s so much better than pointing fingers or clinging to pride. – Molly Cahill
  82. Pretending to know the answer
    Or starting off with “Well, it could be the case that …” There is great freedom, and great wisdom, in saying, “The answer is that I don’t know.” Embrace it. – Sam Sawyer, S.J.
  83. Free-riding on great content
    You read at least one website or follow one podcast or YouTube channel that keeps reminding you that they need your support. (Like, ahem, a certain Catholic media ministry.) Lent is a great time to donate or subscribe. – Sam Sawyer, S.J.
  84. Single-use plastics
    I did this a few years ago, prepared to give up water bottles, straws, etc. But what I wasn’t prepared for was buying bread at the grocery store…. I had to go to the bakery section where the bread comes in paper. And don't forget to find an alternative to garbage bags! – Siobhan Ryan
  85. Do: Pray for someone who annoys you.
    Maybe it’s one person, maybe it’s 40. Either way, praying for people who get under your skin will be just as beneficial to you as it is to them. – Kerry Weber
  86. Late-night snacks
    Have a complete dinner, but don’t go back to the kitchen for that bowl of cereal before bed. It will be good for your digestion and your discipline. – Kerry Weber
  87. Do: Pick up an abandoned hobby.
    Do you have boxes of quilting supplies stuffed into bins in your basement? A fishing pole that needs some love? Recipes you’ve never tried? Take some time to be creative this Lent, and find new joy in things you once loved but have fallen by the wayside. – Kerry Weber
  88. Do: Make the world a greener place.
    Whether you’re planting seedlings for a garden or focusing on keeping your last remaining houseplants alive, tending to the needs of another living thing can be healing for us and the earth. While you’re at it, check out the Laudato Si’ Movement for inspiration and ideas about caring for creation. – Kerry Weber
  89. Do: Visit a church every day.
    I will admit that this sacrifice started one Lent as “go to Mass every day,” which failed after 48 hours, and soon morphed into “stop into a church and pray every day.” Bonus? Spending a few minutes in a quiet church is great for your mental health. – Jim Keane
  90. Eating capybaras
    I don’t care if the Vatican says they’re not meat. Lent is Lent. – Jim Keane
  91. One of your streaming services
    Take an honest look at how much per month you spend on everything from Fubo to Netflix to Peacock, and cancel one. Added bonus: It gives your sister, who has been secretly logging on as you for months, a chance to be more holy. – Jim Keane
  92. Multi-tasking
    It’s been well-established that we can’t really multitask; we just switch from one task to another, paying less than full attention to any of them. So stop lying to yourself about how efficient you are and instead embrace the old Jesuit advice age quod agis: do what you are doing. – Sam Sawyer, S.J.
  93. Do: Read poetry.
    Read it aloud, slowly. Take the time to savor it and sink into its imagery and rhythm. Maybe even memorize a favorite poem. (Did you know America publishes poems?) – Sam Sawyer, S.J.
  94. Do: Ask elders in your life to share stories about meaningful moments.
    Pope Francis has noted the loneliness that comes with aging, and this is a way to engage individuals who might not be asked about their lives very often. Plus, you’ll be surprised at how moving, fun, and inspiring these stories can be. -Michael J. O’Loughlin
  95. Late nights
    Perhaps it’s just me getting older and more boring, but I think there’s something to starting mornings slowly, and actually having a little time to talk to Jesus before getting to the gym, taking the kids to school or logging onto your first meeting. Plus, you’ll be happier and a more patient person. – Ricardo da Silva, S.J.
  96. Being late
    If, like me, you’re always arriving at a meeting or logging onto that call late or just in time, arrive early this Lent. I’m amazed at what happens when I arrive early for something: I’m calmer and more present and available, giving people the freedom to open up to me—often deeply. – Ricardo da Silva, S.J.
  97. Do: Give up the same simple thing you did when you were a child.
    I gave up soda one year, and never went back to it. Sometimes, letting go of our hang-ups around the perfect thing to give up frees us. Nothing is too small, silly or insignificant to give-up—and it’s better to give up something rather than nothing. – Ricardo da Silva, S.J.
  98. Looking at the phone when in the presence of others
    We all do it, and it dehumanizes us among other things! – Traug Keller
  99. Do: Just try very hard to be good to all you come in contact with.
    It will make you feel really good inside. – Glenda Castro
  100. Fish on Friday (or at least fancy fish)
    A lox bagel for breakfast, a fish sandwich for lunch, lobster tail for dinner…. Is it really a penance if you look forward to it all week? Challenge yourself and go for some plant-based protein. – Delaney Coyne
  101. Small talk 
    Stop talking about the weather. It’s time to have more meaningful conversations with your friends and neighbors. – Tim Reidy
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