Ash Wednesday is this week, marking the beginning of the holy season of Lent.
One of the reasons we enter into this season each year is that we are in constant need of spiritual renewal. I’ve written before about how Lent is “spiritual bootcamp.” Christ showed us the way to enter into this season through His own 40 days in the desert. And through that, we can see how we are to live out this season through the 3 Pillars of Lent:
Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving.
Lent is a time of sacrifice. Most of us remember being children and giving up chocolate. But as we get older, we come to understand that this deprivation has a point. In fasting, we strengthen our wills against our own desires. If our wills are weak, we are more prone to sinful temptations. The more we can assert our will over our wants, we can are more armed when temptations come our way. Fasting also empties us of so many of the things we do not need. St. Francis had the insight that if we could be satisified with very little in this world, we could focus our satisfactions in the Divine.
One of the things I’ve noticed in my life, I find that things like YouTube and social media take up a good portion of my free time. This is time I could be using on my daily duties or (more importantly) on God. This Lent I will be fasting from these types of things. In order to be filled with God, I must now empty myself of the noise that distracts me. In the desert, Christ emptied Himself of his bodily desires so that He could focus everything He was on being satisified by His Father.
Lent is also a time for our prayer life to deepen and mature. A mistake that many people make is to think that more prayer is the same as better prayer. To be sure, many of us need more prayer in our lives. But filling the minutes with prayer only the beginning. Praying for an hour a day would be nice. But God is not impressed simply because of the quantity of prayer, but the quality. Remember His words, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matt 6:7).
I want to be clear that I am not discouraging you from bringing prayer more prominently into your life. You have my full support if you are planning on adding the rosary, adoration, or novenas to your Lenten prayer program. All I am saying is that this is the beginning, not the end. By adding more, the goal is to grow closer in relationship to the Lord. By filling our lives with God in prayer, we may be increasing the chance of that meeting with Him. But if all we’ve done is marked off time with Him, then we have not gone deep enough.
Finally, we have almsgiving. The Bible constantly reminds us of the spiritual benefit of giving to the poor. Jesus even says “Give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you.” (Luke 11:41). Giving alms during this time does two things:
First, it helps us act in love towards the needs of our brothers and sisters. God blesses us with material possessions so that we can use these blessings to help our families but also to help the less-fortunate. The letter to James reminds us that while our prayers are essential, we must act to meet the material needs of others. “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2: 15-16). Giving alms helps manifest that love in our hearts into a material reality.
Second, giving alms helps us to let go of this material world. Lent is a time for us to die to our selves. One of the reasons for this is to remind us about our own deaths. Lent is a time of Memento Mori, a time to remember death. This is not a mere morbidity, it is a focus on reality. Sirach 28:6 says “Remember death and decay, and cease from sin!” These are not simply to commands, but they are linked. If we remember that this life is ending, then we will focus on the next life. When we do that, it helps us to be generous with our material blessings.
These 3 Pillars of Lent are meant to transform us during this time. Let us use these 3 Pillars to raise us up closer to the Glory of God.
Copyright 2023, WL Grayson
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