It’s that time of year again. Time for penance, almsgiving and fasting as we prepare to celebrate Easter, the great mystery of our redemption.
Many Catholics who are serious about their faith say they actually enjoy lent. It’s like boot camp to get our souls in shape; to slow down the pace a bit, spend more time in prayer and look within with an eye to improving ourselves and deepening our relationship with God.
I heard a great homily on Ash Wednesday. Msgr. Peter Dooley, with great simplicity explained the three prongs of lent in terms of our relationships. First, prayer deepens our relationship and communication with God. It focuses us on His love and power. Our prayer life is enhanced with spiritual reading, another pillar of Lenten practice that I highly recommend.
Second, almsgiving helps to focus us on others and our relationships with them. We think of dropping a few dollars in the poor box to be distributed to strangers in need that we will likely never meet. Probably true, and yet it still speaks of relationship. There are many saints and angels in heaven that are pulling for us, praying for us and interceding on our behalf that we haven’t formally met. And yet, we’re in relationship with them. Almsgiving expands our family to include even those we’ve yet to meet…but will, God willing, someday in heaven.
But almsgiving is more than making monetary donations. The alms of time spent with a loved one, a phone call to someone in grief or alone, a smile to a stranger who looks down on their luck are sometimes the alms most needed. Patience when we’re in a hurry can be more valuable than a million dollars to a child in pain.
Lastly fasting is about our relationship with ourselves. I had never thought of it that way. I think of fasting more about getting in line with God. In this new context it made an impression on me. What do I have control of within myself? My will? My temper? My sensuality? Fasting frees us from those inner masters that can keep us in bondage. By applying the graces of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross through prayer and fasting, we’re freed to be the person God created us to be…not the caricatures we become through sin.
So with this in mind, let’s work on our relationships by making the most of lent…It’s very good therapy!
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