The Catholic Church, from very early, has promoted three activities that we the members should undertake more seriously during Lent. They are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is for this reason that the Gospel text for Ash Wednesday every year is Jesus’ advice on prayer, fasting and almsgiving (cf Mt 6: 1-6, 16-18).
Lent is a time for more prayer. We live busy lives and there is much emphasis on enjoying life, but we must stop and ask ourselves if we are really and truly experiencing the joy of the presence and protection of God. If we do not pray, we are not really Christians since we tell ourselves that we can live without the help of God. We all know that prayer knocks at the door; it helps to deepen the relationship with God. This relationship cannot be strengthened or maintained if it is done once a week or when we have time. We pray more because we believe that all goodness comes from God and when we pray we touch God. We maintain that connection which we truly need. We are all aware of the challenges a busy, active life can pose to the Christian who wants to pray. We can all overcome these challenges by organising our time and activities, which includes our prayer-time, and by adhering to the plan.
Fasting is the soul of prayer. It is another exercise that the Church encourages us to undertake during Lent. Fasting is not only eating less; we also fast by giving up or abstaining from some of the things that we indulge in excessively such as looking at too much television, drinking too much alcohol, wasting time on the job, making excuses for habitual late-coming, not completing given tasks, playing an excessive amount of computer games or using obscene language – which we should not use at all. We can make our own list. When we fast from these habits, we are in fact trying to put God first in our lives. The Bible tells us that fasting from food must go together with fasting from other worldly activities (cf Is 58: 3-12). We could say that fasting from food in itself is not what is important; it is what the fasting symbolises that really matters. So to fast in a way that is genuinely pleasing to God, we can make an effort to forgive those who have hurt us and not harbour resentment any longer because our fasting is accompanied by a loving and forgiving attitude towards others.
For almsgiving or helping the poor, the Church has made it easy for us by giving us the opportunity to contribute to Catholic aid agencies such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul, soup kitchens, and many others. It is obvious that almsgiving is simply a response by us to God, a response that we have come to through prayer and fasting. It is an expression of our gratitude for all that God has given to us and a realisation that in the Body of Christ it is never just “I, me, myself and God”. Through prayer and fasting we come to a deeper understanding that the needs of all are the responsibility of all in the Body of Christ. Works of charity and the promotion of justice are integral elements of the Christian way of life.
The word “Lent” is an old English word which means “springtime”. May this Lent be a new springtime in the lives of each of us. Through prayer, through fasting from food accompanied by forgiving others and not bearing grudges, and through donations to help the poor, may we, like Jesus in the desert for forty days, overcome temptation and be well prepared to celebrate Easter. – Ruby Nelson, Archdiocesan Catechetical Office