Prayer, Almsgiving, Fasting: “Behold now is the acceptable time.”
By Sister Mary Regina Robbins
Each year the Christian liturgical calendar invites us to go deeper into the meaning of our commitment to Jesus Christ as we enter the Lenten journey of 40 days. The ritual of receiving ashes on our foreheads and watching others receive the same, is a reminder that we do not journey alone and that we have not here a lasting home, but are going to die someday as we “pass” into our eternal home.
The journey of life is wonderful, but also a serious one-time hike! The ashes sober us into reality. The traditional ritual word, “remember” strikes a note of examining who we are and where we are going. As baptized people, graced to live in imitation of Jesus Christ, we wish to “die with him” that we might also “rise with him” in the Paschal Mystery we will celebrate on Easter.
The early Church fathers earmarked prayer, almsgiving and fasting as ways to prepare for baptism at Easter. This tradition soon became a practice for all Christians preparing to renew their baptismal commitment at Easter. But where are we with this today? Underlining all Lenten practices is the motivation of love. Prayer, almsgiving and fasting, when rightly understood and practiced, free a person to greater self-monitoring and discipline in order to overcome innate selfishness and be more loving.
Prayer: Take time to reflect on prayer in your life. Be quiet enough to listen to God. Spend more quality time being with God. He is always available. Reading scripture and spiritual literature can jump start us into prayer that is truly effective for personal growth and communion with God.
Almsgiving: Almsgiving requires us to give away generously to someone in need. We can give time, talent or goods and money. In other words, we “sacrifice” for others.
Fasting: Fasting is refraining from something to the point of feeling the emptiness of its absence and being reminded that one must rely on God and delay immediate self-gratification. It means denying ourselves those stumbling blocks to true growth in holiness. Besides the laws of the Church, we need to choose a “fasting” practice peculiar to our unique disposition and situation.
So as we start out on our journey, let us consider how prayer, almsgiving and fasting will accompany us on our way to Easter Joy.