Soon the Liturgical Season of Lent will begin, and it is time to think about the resolutions that will help us grow in holiness. The traditional triad of Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving are a path of purification for participating more fully in the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection which will be our principal meditation in Holy Week.
Prayer is for every season. Worthy participation in Holy Mass is the source and summit of our Catholic tradition. Perhaps we can find a Mass early in the morning before work, or during the lunch hour. Some parishes may add an evening Mass during Lent. Mass during the week can bring a greater appreciation to our experience of Sunday Mass. The Rosary or some other devotional prayer(s) such as the Divine Mercy Chaplet or the Stations of the Cross can aid our meditation on Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection.
The rock foundation of our prayer life is established through mental or quiet prayer – ideally before the Most Blessed Sacrament, but perhaps even in a quiet corner of our room. We can offer this time “being with” our Lord and seeking to listen to Him. St. Pope John Paul II, in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope writes, “Man achieves the fullness of prayer not when he expresses himself, but when he lets God be most fully present in prayer.” (1994:Knopf, p. 18) We have only to give ourselves to Him. For that hour or so, we can let go of the distractions and attachments of the world. Making a resolution to establish or strengthen a habit of prayer can reap benefits that last long after Lent and Easter.
While the Church recommends Fasting, there are any number of other mortifications that can help strengthen us against selfishness. The Lenten Fast prescribed by Church law is now only two days – Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
It applies to Catholics 18 to 59 years old, who are in sufficient good health. On Fast days there is only one full meal; and two lesser meals.
Eating between meals is not permitted. On these two days, and on all Fridays during Lent, Catholics who are 14 and older also must abstain from meat.
We often “give up” things during Lent, and rightly so. These mortifications, when we make them out of a motive of love for God, and in the State of Sanctifying Grace, can be meritorious; they can help us and others grow in holiness. They also help fortify our will for doing good, and for becoming detached from material things. One modern day saint, St Josemaria Escriva (1902-1976), writes with terse wisdom in The Way, “Get used to saying No!” (no. 5) I think it is accurate to say that St. Josemaria meant that we must discipline ourselves to say No, not so much to others, but to our own desires; to those inclinations which keep us from loving God and neighbor. We might say no to a favorite food; no to TV, the internet, or social media; no to our comfortable chair. These small practices of self-denial, strengthen us to say yes to God and the legitimate needs of others.
Almsgiving usually refers to giving some portion of our worldly goods to the poor. This is a great work of generosity. Stewardship, as taught in the Sacred Scriptures, means to give back to God a tithe (often regarded as one tenth). We ought to give back to God the first and the best of the good things He has given us. This sharing of our material blessings can be directed to the support of the Church and her works, or to others in need.
When we refer to almsgiving in the Lenten context, we might include other forms of charity or kindness. Acts of kindness, even those unseen by others, can take the form of actions, words, or prayers that unselfishly seek to assist others. They can be grand or very tiny. Developing the virtue of charity and practicing even charitable or loving thoughts can deepen within us and others the love that Jesus demonstrates and teaches. Visiting or making a phone call to someone; taking time to listen to someone who needs us; doing our chores or any honest work with greater attention and love, can become a cause of holiness.
Making sacrifices out of a motive of love for God, makes us more like Jesus Christ, Who in the Paschal (Easter) Mystery suffered, died, and rose that we might have life. The path to Easter, to sharing in the life of the Risen Christ, is the Cross. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Mt 16:24-25)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Excerpt from Jesus of Nazareth. Part II - Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection. Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. 2011: Ignatius Press. (Chapter 8, p. 238)
“…Entering into the mystery of the Cross must constitute the heart of the apostolic ministry, the heart of the proclamation of the Gospel designed to lead people to faith. If on this basis we may identify the central focus of Christian worship as the celebration of the Eucharist, the constantly renewed participation in the priestly mystery of Jesus Christ, at the same time the full scope of that worship must always be kept in mind: it is always a matter of drawing every individual person, indeed, the whole world, into Christ’s love in such a way that everyone together with Him becomes an offering that is ‘acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.’ (Rom 15:16)”