PRAYER, FASTING & ALMSGIVING. This time of year, as Lent is ready to begin, there are a lot of articles in the Catholic press about how to have a good and holy Lent.
One that really grabbed my attention had a theme that stated essentially, “don’t give up something for Lent, DO something.” The focus was good. It was a reminder that Lent is not our annual Catholic diet where we stay away from sweets or other delights and if we’re lucky end up at Easter a few pounds lighter.
And, of course, the article is right. If we only focus on what we are giving up for Lent, then our Lenten journey will not really accomplish its goal. But, I still think we should give something up.
What works with Lent is not just the sacrifice, but it is the combination of all three things that the church calls us to do. The Church doesn’t ask us to give something up for Lent. Instead, the way the Church frames it is three-fold – we are called to prayer, fasting AND almsgiving (or charitable giving). Notice the “and” in there. It wasn’t an “or”.
Prayer is first. Yes, we are called to all of our regular prayer, to come to Mass every Sunday, but we are also called to add some additional prayer to our life these 40 days. Perhaps it is coming to the Stations of the Cross on Fridays as is a tradition. Perhaps it is coming to Mass during the week to spend some extra quiet time with the Lord in the Eucharist. It can be many things, but this added prayer helps to open us up to the holiness of this season and what God wants to say to us.
Fasting. Yes, we are called to fast. We do this formally by fast and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and by abstaining from meat every Friday, but this is where we are also called to an additional fast – giving up something for Lent. The word “sacrifice” comes from two Latin words, sacra and ficio. Sacra means “holy” and ficio means “to make.” So, our sacrifice is something we give up to make us holy. So, if we give up time in front of tv or other screens what are we doing with it – spending time in prayer, with family, helping others? It should be something that helps us grow.
And finally, almsgiving, or charitable giving. The effect of our practices should make us more aware of the needs of our brothers and sisters all around us. Our prayer and fasting should soften our hearts so that we reach out to them in love and help them in their need.
So, let us truly embrace all of these parts of our Lenten journey – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving so that we might spend these 40 days being transformed more-and-more into the presence of Christ in our midst.