Christianity is not a cheap religion. Being a Christian is difficult, and it takes sustained effort. Yes, Jesus freely offers salvation (we do not need to “earn” God’s love), but that doesn’t mean living a Christian life is easy: the bar is set high, and it’s hard work to meet it. If you want to be good, you need to train to be good, it doesn’t come naturally.
Happily, the Church knows this, and gives us the blessing of Lent. The season of Lent teaches us three ways of training that help a great deal: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Prayer is, very simply, time spent with Jesus. Our time is our own, yes, but it is entrusted to us by God, and he asks that we spend some of it with him. Sometimes we think of time as something we want for ourselves. We need to train ourselves to want God, so that we will want to spend time with him. If we find ourselves not wanting God, we are not well, and like patients dragging themselves to hospital, we need to drag ourselves to Jesus so he can heal us. Jesus is our doctor, he is our physiotherapist, he is our personal trainer. Prayer is the most important thing we do in Lent, because it puts us and Jesus together, and gives him the opening he needs to work on us and put us right.
Fasting is important too. Fasting is saying no to ourselves so that we can say yes to God. It’s not just “not eating”, or giving up some favorite food, it’s a free choice to do without something you want. Wants and desires can be powerful, so much so that sometimes we seem a bit like slaves to them: we can’t do without. We need to practice saying “no” to ourselves over and over, so that we will learn not to be controlled by our wants, and can choose to say “no” to them when we need to.
Almsgiving brings other people into the picture. Almsgiving is the use of our resources for the good of others. This is often money, but it can also be time, attention, and effort. God doesn’t just love us alone, he loves others too, and so he wants us to love them like he loves them. When we do, we are being like God. This is what he wants for us: to be like him and to love like him. But this doesn’t come without practice. It’s not easy to love others, especially if it means giving up something for ourselves. So, like every hard thing, we need to do it over and over again so that we can get better at it.
These three things, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, are exercises in goodness: they’re spiritual training. Lent is a great opportunity to get ourselves into shape and train for goodness. Lent is a liturgical season: that means we are not alone in this, we are doing it together. Moreover, we have a personal trainer: Jesus himself, who calls us every day to goodness. If we remain faithful in prayer, we will be with him, and when we are with him, he himself will guide us in our training, through his encouragement, his guidance and his example. Let’s get in shape this Lent, let’s become fit for God.
©Agapios Theophilus, 2017