It has been the case for a very long time in our Catholic approach to spirituality that it is shaped, during the Holy Season of Lent, by the three traditional focuses of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. In the process of our drawing closer and closer to the person of Christ, we have been given these helpful ways of recognising that the process of conversion must involve a willingness to change our hearts and minds, and to show through our actions that the grace of God is at work in our lives. This invitation to prayer, fasting and almsgiving has both a personal and a parish dimension.
In terms of prayer, the parish finds ways of offering various spiritual exercises, such as the Lenten Novena and the Stations of the Cross, to assist us on our spiritual journey. The wonderful responses that we have been having to these services bears witness that as individuals, and as a community, we are serious in our desire to deepen our life of prayer together. May God continue to give us the grace to feel a real desire for an ever closer relationship with Jesus, Our Most Holy Redeemer.
A second level of showing our desire for conversion is through almsgiving, a reaching out in love to those who are in greater need than we are. Our weekly Lenten appeal collection offers us a very practical way of expressing the fact that we express our love for others through practical and generous assistance to the poor and suffering.
The third invitation of the Lenten season is that we also express our longing for God through fasting. The idea behind this, of course, is to make each of us more aware that all that we need is given us through the love and mercy of God. We generally think of fasting in terms of depriving ourselves of something that we enjoy, whether that might be food or drink or chocolate or even smoking! And these are all good practices, which should never be discouraged.
But there are other ways of fasting which are also worth reflecting on, and which are just as spiritually significant for us. It would be especially important for us to fast from our thoughts and actions which fail to reflect the love of God in the world.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we have the famous passage: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.”
Here we find many areas where we can fast from the thoughts and actions which tend to express the weakness of our human nature. We are often impatient and unkind. We are frequently envious and boastful. We tend to be disrespectful of others in our talk and thoughts. We do not always trust, or hope. And, of course we all struggle to persevere.
So our Lenten fasting can also focus on the way in which we are called to real self-awareness and to the invitation to become more and more like Christ. A real attempt to change the patterns of behaviour during Lent will always be encountered by the grace of God, to strengthen and encourage us. Such an effort, through grace, will of course continue long past the season of Lent and become a daily expression that we are putting on the mind and heart of Christ.
Fr Gerard, CSsR