Lent – Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving
Ash Wednesday occurs on 17 February 2021this year and marks the beginning of Lent. For all of us, Lent is 40 days of not only fasting but also a time to reflect on our lives, past/present/future. This year’s distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday will take place a bit differently from usual because of the pandemic. Following the instructions of the Holy Father, instead of making a cross of ashes on our forehead, the clergy will sprinkle the ashes over our head. This scripturally rooted ritual represents our humanity with these words from Genesis 3:19 “…you are dust and to dust you shall return”. Death was not a part of God’s plan for his creation but became a consequence due to original sin.
Jesus states in the Ash Wednesday Gospel that there are three acts that a devout Jew is required to do – pray, fast and almsgiving. Note that these three acts also correlate with three of our five precepts of the Church that assists us in prayer, living a moral life, and growing towards the love of God and love of neighbor. Those three acts that Jesus spoke in Ash Wednesday’s Gospel that are associated with our Precepts of the Church include:
- prayer – attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation;
- fasting – observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church;
- almsgiving – To provide for the needs of the Church.
How can we gainfully incorporate prayer, fasting and almsgiving during the next six weeks of the 2021 Lenten Season?
Believe it or not, there is always time for prayer. Getting up in the morning and thanking God for another day to be part of His life and for the lives of others. At the red stop light where no one is coming in any direction and you are just sitting there. Do not get impatient but say a few Hail Mary’s for those in your life, family/friends/living/deceased. Now, during Lent 2021 we could give some more specific time to set aside each day to pray and/or read the Bible/Holy Scriptures. Praying is easy, we just need to set some time aside to be with our God. Psalm 46:10 states, “Be still (slow down, you move too fast) and know that I am God.”
Now comes fasting! Those of us, ages 18 – 59 and in good health, are required to fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, 17 February and Good Friday, 2 April 2021. The rule of abstinence from meat is required for us who are 14 years of age onwards to include all Fridays during Lent. On those two days of fasting, we are permitted to eat one full meal where two smaller meals may also be taken, but they are not to equal that of a full meal. There are those exceptions to fasting/abstaining to include special diets and/or if your health allows it.
From the time we were old enough to remember and into adulthood, during lent, we gave something up to include candy, soda, tv, snacks, nicotine, or alcohol. Though this Catholic practice of “giving something up” for Lent is a pious tradition, it is not regulated by church law. Then why do it? Because Lent is a time of spiritual formation with giving something up leads us into and through Jesus’ Passion to the Holiest Day of the Church’s Liturgical Year – Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Finally, Jesus speaks of almsgiving and states, “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” To provide for not only the needs of the Church but more importantly, during Lent, to share what we have with those who have not. To forego entertainment, dinners, etc., and provide to those who are unsure where their next meal may come from. Yes, there are those in our community who are in need. An idea is placing any saved money normally used for entertainment into a “cookie Jar” and giving it to the Church, Hope House, or a charity you desire.
Ash Wednesday’s 17 November 2021 Gospel speaks directly to us in preparation for Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Jesus emphasizes the importance of doing all these things quietly and without being flamboyant. And, as such, through our Lenten Spiritual Formation we become closer to God, Our Father, who sees us in secret, and will repay us!
Blessings – Dcn Jim