Most practicing Catholics know what is expected and required of us during the Season of Lent. We talk about giving something up for Lent. We want to make Lent special. Most Catholics want Lent to be a spiritual experience, a truly life changing experience. We hope to approach Easter Sunday with hearts overflowing with love for God and a raised awareness and ardent appreciation of the great sacrifice Jesus made for us. In a way we go into our own desert for 40 days as Jesus did.
To indeed have a virtuous Lenten experience it’s necessary to know and follow The Three Pillars of Lent., Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving.
PRAYER: If we desire to get closer to Our Lord it may be necessary to increase our prayer life. There are many ways to add prayer to our daily prayer routine. It’s up to us to evaluate how much we pray and decide what we can add. Consider finding time to pray with others at home or at church such as the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet. Drop into the church for at least 10 minutes a couple of times a week, kneeling or sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, quietly loving Our Lord. Find out when your parish will be praying the “Stations of the Cross” together and mark your calendar to participate. What other ways can we add more prayer to our days?
Prayer is extremely important. Prayer bonds us to God. When we prayer we let God know we believe in Him. When we pray we learn to feel God’s love in our hearts. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has very much to say about prayer. I’m including these tw0 siting’s that I find especially significant:
CCC 2562: Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures it is the whole person who prays. But naming the source of prayer Scriptures sometimes speaks of the soul or the spirit but most often from the heart (more than a 1000 times). According to Scripture it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God the words of prayer are in vain.
CCC 2564: Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and man springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man.
The more we pray from the heart, the more we want to pray and the greater will be our ability to feel the presence of God. Remember our prayer is the holy covenant relationship between God and us.
Fasting: Fasting is difficult for everyone. Fasting takes a lot of effort and dedication as we offer up to Our Lord the food we’re not eating. Think about this, if we follow the guidelines for adult fast during Lent we’ll always be aware that it’s the Season of Lent. There’s no way we can forget why we’re fasting. Isn’t this what we want? To have Jesus on our mind every day during Lent? Maybe if we’re able to stick with the fast during Lent, we’ll be blessed to have Jesus stay in our mind and hearts even after Lent is over.
“Fasting is one of the most ancient actions linked to Lent. Fasting rules have changed through the ages, but throughout Church history fasting has been considered sacred. The prophet Isaiah insists that fasting without changing our behavior is not pleasing to God. Therefore, the goal of fasting is linked with prayer. The pangs of hunger remind us of our hunger for God, and prayer and fasting together brings us to what Lent is about - a deeper conversion.” (Encyclopedia of Catholic Spirituality and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults)
Something else to think about, if we offer our fast for a special intention or petition such as World Peace, fasting let’s God know how serious we are about our petition. What are we willing to give up for World Peace or an end to abortion or some other concern close to our heart?
Almsgiving: Whoever possesses the goods of this world, and sees his brother to be in need, and yet closes his heart to him: in what way does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:17) Giving alms might be difficult if we’re on a tight budget but if we think about it most of us are much better off than much of the world’s population. This is a hard fact to consider. Jesus said we must give to the poor. “…Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these least of brethren, you did it to me.” And though the Church has much to say about prayer and has clear guidelines on fasting the Church mostly leaves almsgiving up to the individual. For this reason, it’s important for us to spend a little more time thinking about the 3rd Pillar of Lent, almsgiving. No one can escape the poverty that surrounds us.
Muslims are required to give alms as a kind of tax. “The Arabic word for this pillar (almsgiving) is ‘Zakah’ better translated as purification and growth. Muslims are encouraged to do charitable acts every day of their lives and as much as possible.” (Voices of Faith – Muhammad Malik) All Muslims, poor or rich are obliged to do charitable works and to be aware of the needs of others. There’s no stigma to being poor in Islam. The poor are holy and close to God because they’re poor. By their very existence, the poor enable others the chance for Zakah, which helps all Muslims move toward purification and growth.
Christians and Muslims are in union in the belief of the importance of almsgiving. We are encouraged to do charitable acts every day and to pay attention to the needs of others.
As Christians, we are to see Jesus in everyone.Many of us donate money or time to programs that help the poor but some of us say we can’t give money to help the poor because we have family members that need regular financial help. I was surprised to learn that giving financial help to family members is considering almsgiving. Helping a family member in need is a good thing to do.
“For almsgiving delivers from death and keeps you from going into Darkness. Indeed, almsgiving, for all who practice it, is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High,” (Tobit 4:10-11)
We have blessed opportunities to get closer to Our Lord! To get closer to Our Lord now! Let’s take advantage of this opportunity for holiness and not let this Lent pass us by!
“God’s becoming man is a great mystery! But the reason for all this is His love, a love which is grace, generosity, a desire to draw near, a love which does not hesitate to offer itself in sacrifice for the beloved…Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance.” Pope Francis