One of the most mysterious and intriguing experiences in the life of Jesus Christ was his time in the desert. The Scriptures say the Holy Spirit drove him into the wilderness for 40 days, immediately after his baptism, where he prayed, fasted and faced down the temptations of the devil, and then emerged to begin his public ministry.

As we stand on the brink of another Lent, the church bids us to enter the desert for 40 days of spiritual preparation, so that we can celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ with minds and hearts renewed.

As we approach our Archdiocesan Synod in June, this Lent has a special urgency and purpose for the church in Milwaukee. We are calling on the Holy Spirit to fill us with holy and divine fire so we can live the call of discipleship in Jesus with passion, conviction and generosity.

We are seeking nothing short of a spiritual revival as we ask the Lord to help us form pastoral priorities and goals to lead us into the future. Whatever comes out of the synod will simply remain words on paper unless we are willing and able to take up the challenge of the Gospel with renewed hearts and minds.

That is where this Lent comes in with a particular force. We are asking the synod delegates and facilitators to spiritually prepare themselves for their participation in this powerful event, particularly in this holy and penitential season. But does not God ask this of all of us, as we enter another 40 days of fasting and prayer?

So, what will you do special for Lent, which starts this coming Wednesday? I always need time to think through my commitments for the season and to write them down. Otherwise, it all stays too vague and general. I would like to share what I am thinking about doing and encourage everyone to ask somebody in your life: What are you doing for Lent? What a great conversation starter at work or at a dinner party.  

1. Pray every day with the Scriptures. Read a Gospel sequentially or read the Gospel for Mass. Put yourself in the narrative. Hear, feel and see the presence of Jesus. What is he saying to you? What is he asking of you? Afterward, write down some thoughts in a prayer journal.

2. Reach out to people in your life who need your loving concern. A visit, a phone call, a letter does wonders for someone who is lonely or hurting. If there is a broken relationship in your life, take the initiative to try to heal it.

3. Give alms to the poor and to charities, and give some time to service as well. Your parish is a great place to start. Living out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy unleashes the saving power of Jesus crucified and risen.

4. Giving up something for Lent is always a good idea. The discipline of self-denial prepares our minds, hearts and bodies for a deeper awareness of God’s love, presence and Word in our lives. Clearing away the distractions and clutter to hear the Lord more clearly is a true entrance into the wilderness where we can attend to God with greater fidelity.

5. Put yourself purposely in new and challenging situations. Insert a spiritual component into a conversation with a friend. Go to Mass at a different parish one Sunday. Volunteer for something that will stretch your comfort and your abilities. Seek out someone who is different than you and talk to him or her. Go on a retreat or make a pilgrimage to a holy place. Do some good theological reading. Try a new spiritual devotion.

6. Examine your conscience and go to confession. Be serious about rooting sin out of your life. See the struggle for holiness and virtue as your way of loving God, responding to his gracious initiative and letting his gentle reign move more deeply into your life and heart.

The list of possibilities for our spiritual growth is endless, when we start thinking about it. This weekend, I am going to write down my commitments, titling the page, “The Lenten Project” and hang it up in my bathroom. That way, at the very beginning of the day, I will be reminded of what I have set out to do and the person I seek to become.

As we move ever closer to the graced days of our synod, I pray this Lent will be a powerful and life-changing moment in our individual, family, parish and archdiocesan life. Lent of 2014 is going to be great.