Our liturgical year begins with Advent, but Lent shares certain similarities with the beginning of the secular year.
We enter into Ash Wednesday with a load of hopes and resolutions. I will not eat chocolate; I will watch less television; I will read this, that, or the other abstruse and difficult technical book; I will. . . .
Each of us has our own list and if most people are like me, within three days they have violated one or the other protocols of their list. This is inevitable, because I go in with the idea that I will do these things. Of course I will fail. Moreover, I make unrealistic assessments of what I am ready for and what I can handle in the course of time.
Lent isn't about taking a bunch of spiritual couch potatoes and turning them into triathletes. If I approach the season with that idea of transformation, I will always be disappointed with the result. Lent is about learning to listen again. For this we do not need feats of spectacular spirituality. If we follow the simple provisions the Church has laid out before us, we have a good start. If I observe the fasts on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and the abstinence from meat on Fridays and if I keep in mind why I do these things--in other words, if I spend my time looking for and at Jesus, I will have accomplished more than reading ten million spiritual books. If I attend one stations of the Cross and really pay attention and pray through them, if I make a regular practice of confession, if I pay more attention to the needs of those around me, I need not wear a hair shirt and use the discipline.
The asceticism of Lent is not a call to heroics, it is an invitation to love. That invitation, followed to its full, will inevitably lead to heroic spirituality, but God doesn't expect us to leap from our current habits and practices into the habit of Mother Teresa in one 40 day season. He may cause it to happen, if we are willing and we dispose ourselves to it; however, we can't make it happen, and He most likely won't. This is nothing to be disappointed over. Sanctity takes time and attention. Lent begins to teach us how to pay attention.
So, if all of your noble and high-flown resolutions fall by the wayside, do not trouble yourself. Continue on the quiet path of a little more prayer, a little more attention, a little less selfishness and God will make much good out of this simple obedience. Do not ask more of yourself than God asks of you. This is a form of spiritual pride and disobedience. Instead, before we start on this road, let each of us spend some time in prayer and ask God what He desires. And then, do what you can to make it happen, and pray for God to fill in the rest.