Lenten practices opportunities for fuller life in Christ

| February 12, 2015

NienstedtBlNext Wednesday, Feb. 18, we embark on our annual 40-day Lenten journey. As we do so, I think it is helpful to remember that the culmination to these 40 days is not Good Friday, but Easter.

God is indeed asking us to die to self and to resist temptation, but the reason behind these actions is to clear out more space in our hearts for him and for his grace. Our prayer, fasting and almsgiving are not ends in themselves. They are not ways to prove our strengths or increase our skills, but rather opportunities to become more fully alive in Christ, more able to reveal his love to the people around us.

The early Church fathers thought that fasting needed to be connected to almsgiving. St. John Chrysostom wrote that fasting without almsgiving was hardly praiseworthy. In fact, he went on to compare it with gluttony or drunkenness, since it smacked of selfishness. St. Augustine believed that fasting was avarice unless the person gave away what had been saved. Fasting needs, then, to be reformed by charity and not simply the desire for spiritual perfection.

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are necessarily interrelated: Prayer awakens our compassion and makes us more prepared to be generous in our almsgiving. Fasting aids our prayer by reminding us of our dependence on God, as well as allowing us to save resources that can be given to the poor. Almsgiving helps us to imitate Jesus in his poverty and free us from a materialistic attitude that can result from our consumerist culture.

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are, for everyone from 18 to 59 years of age, days of universal fasting and abstinence. Fridays in Lent are days of abstinence from meat. But these requirements are just the minimum. Voluntary fasting on other days can make us more conscious of the millions of others in the world who suffer from involuntary hunger.

Daily Mass, where possible, is also an excellent way to focus on God’s word and to fortify us through the reception of holy Communion to go forth with a renewed determination to see Christ in others.

Fasting and abstinence need not apply just to food or drink, but can involve abstaining from smoking, immoderate use of the internet, excessive time watching television or the use of social media. Someone even suggested fasting from family arguments as a way of achieving greater peace at home.

CRS Rice Bowl, sponsored by Catholic Relief Services, offers a very concrete and practical way to pray, fast and give alms. Placing the rice bowl on the family table reminds us to think about and commend to God the more than one billion people who suffer daily from hunger. It also serves as a receptacle for containing the money that a family saves by eating a simple, meatless meal in order to be donated to CRS at the end of Lent.

Last year, Catholics raised more than $8 million through CRS Rice Bowl. Seventy-five percent of these collected funds went to alleviate hunger and to support poverty projects in 40 countries. The other 25 percent stayed in the United States to support local food shelves and soup kitchens.

The first Preface for Lent refers to its own 40 days as a “joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the Paschal Mystery with mind and heart renewed.” As you prepare for Ash Wednesday, keep in mind this spiritual mission statement and begin to formulate practical goals to make it come true.

God bless you!

Oportunidades de prácticas cuaresmales para una vida más plena en Cristo

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Category: Only Jesus

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