The Season of Lent - a time of prayer, almsgiving and fasting

3 crosses Lent 2021. Photo: Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

Photo: Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

The three-fold, inter-related practices of prayer, almsgiving and fasting have their foundation in scripture. They are a rich dimension of the Christian life and also that of other religious traditions. We are called to a regular practice of prayer, almsgiving and fasting throughout our daily lives. During the Season of Lent we pay particular attention to these practices, in a sense we try to exercise these practices more intensely, and more regularly while remembering not to leave them aside during other times of the year.

During Lent, we could put aside a few extra minutes each day to spend in quiet with God. We know and we believe that God is with us in every moment of our day, as Jesus said, “I will be with you always”. Spending some quiet time in prayer with God helps us to grow in our attentiveness and awareness of God’s presence with us in our daily lives: when we are enjoying a cup of coffee or tea, alone or with others, God is with us; when we are taking a walk through nature; when we are shopping; when we smile, say hello, make an act of kindness to a stranger, or warmly welcome an act of kindness, God is with us.

During Lent, we are mindful of the Christian practice of almsgiving and we try to be more intentional with this practice at this time of the year. In the early Christian community, there was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need (Acts 4: 34-35). That was the radical living embodiment of a basic principle of social Catholic teaching, what tradition calls “the universal destination of goods”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it succinctly: “the goods of creation are destined for the entire human race” (n.2452). Our acts of almsgiving can be varied: acts of service, of kindness; a donation to our local parish or other organizations or charities who help the poor and those most in need. The wealth of the richest 1% of the world’s population is twice the wealth of the rest of the world’s population and the gap between the rich and the poor of the world is growing every moment. Our advocacy and actions to help change the sinful structures that perpetuate and expand the gap between the rich and the poor, and continue to keep the poor on the margins of society, are also forms of almsgiving in service of our brothers and sisters around the world.

During Lent we have the practice of fasting, usually by way of giving up something, for example, giving up desserts, chocolates, alcohol or some other form of food or beverage. The very practice of letting go, of forgoing something, can draw us closer to God and remind us of creating space for God to come to us. Fasting reminds us of Jesus’ passion and suffering and in a small way reminds us of our need to be in solidarity with, and to share our resources with, the poor of our world. We also know that such fasting can be good for our health. Pope Francis invites us to expand our understanding of fasting to also include fasting from those behaviours that take us away from God and from others. Those behaviours we know which are not life-giving for ourselves and for others. We also know that such fasting can be good for our own personal and spiritual well-being and that of others.

Pope Francis asks us: “Do you want to fast this Lent”? Here is what he shares. 

"Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
Fast from worries and have trust in God.
Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
Fast from bitterness and fill your hearts with joy.
Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
Fast from words and be silent so you can listen."

Columban Fr Kevin O’Neill is assigned to China but is currently working at St Columban’s Mission Society, Melbourne.

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