As we begin this journey
Prayer, Fasting, and Giving of Alms. As we begin this annual season of cleansing, conversion, and birth for our new members in the Christian/Catholic community, we are joined with our brothers and sisters through memories of the past from ancient times and with our present day Christians. Take some time and pray through the readings for Ash Wednesday, linked below. The call is both simple and challenging.
We are required to do the minimum of sacrifice this Lent: Fast and Abstinence (one meatless meal) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Abstain from meat all Friday's of Lent. That's all Church law asks of us. You don't have to eat fish unless you want to. It simply states that we should refrain from eating meat.
But if you choose to eat seafood instead does that mean that I stroll on down to the local seafood restaurant and eat lobster, baked salmon with an orange glaze sauce, crab stuffed halibut? Hmm, what sort of "sacrifice" is that? What about abstinence do I not understand? I personally love seafood so it's probably not a good idea for me to try and justify doing what I enjoy then call it a sacrifice.
How about a simple bowl of meatless soup and bread? Or tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich? Now we're talking Lent.
True, it takes a little time to get into the spirit of this beautiful season. We all are more or less slaves to our daily routine and our habits but let's give it a serious try this year. God will multiply whatever effort we extend. So . . .
We might ask ourselves:
How can I pray more deeply - not just words but from my heart?
"For me, prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus."
Those insightful words were spoken by St. Teresa of Lisieux, the young 19th century French Carmelite Nun who has become the embodiment of spiritual childhood. This Lent, can I be more childlike in my prayer? More trusting, less complicated, more simple without being simplistic, more direct in how I pray? Can I listen more and talk less in my prayer?
- Spend some time before the Blessed Sacrament this Lent. Be in the presence of the living Christ with the Sunday readings in hand and ask for the Holy Spirit's inspiration.
- Pray the Rosary slowly and reflectively.
- Read the Scriptures, a Gospel passage, and place yourself in the scene. What do you hear? How do you feel? What is your response to what Jesus says and does?
- Pray at Mass, don't just recite the words. Come daily if you can or at least a few days a week besides Sunday.
- Listen more in your prayer and don't just keep asking for things. Say "thank you" more often and "I want" less often.
What can I do without as I embrace some voluntary sacrifice? Do I need it or do I want it?
- Our consumer society moves us from our wants to our needs. What we really don't need becomes, "I can't live without this." In the grand scheme of things the vast majority of us can certainly live with what we have. Rather than buy something new during these next six weeks, count your blessings and possessions. There is likely something you forgot you had and it is perfectly usable. Live simply this Lent. It may not be the best advice for the economy but it could be great food for your soul.
- Give something up so that you have more time for others.
- Choose a "no technology" evening and do some spiritual reading on prayer or the life of a saint.
What can I give to others as "alms?": money, my time, my listening ear, my forgiveness?
We all have the same amount of time every day but how do we fill it? Besides the obligations of work and family and busy parish life, do I come to the end of my day grateful or just tired?
- It is surprising how well we live but often feel that it isn't enough. Give something to another such as a listening ear, financial support, or remember them in prayer this Lent.
- Pay more attention to the needs of others at work, in school, at home.
- Find someone you don't know at the parish and introduce yourself. You may begin a new relationship that will last well beyond one week.
- Stop feeling sorry for yourself and be more grateful.
The Word for Ash Wednesday: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/022212.cfm
"Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint."
(Collect of Ash Wednesday)