As we embark anew on the Lenten journey, we are reminded by Fr. Francis in his Seasonal Introduction that “the Lenten Season is a pilgrimage of faith into our interior life where we meet the Lord and open our hearts to his transforming love.” We cannot ignore the invitation that Lent offers us: “Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God.” Pope Francis reminds us that “Lent is a time for believing, for welcoming God into our lives and allowing him to ‘make his dwelling’ among us (cf. Jn 14:23).”
Holy Mother Church gives us guidance so that we may advance throughout this time of preparation: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. None of these disciplines is for external show or surface performance. Each one is used to aid us in going deeper in the way of love, into the wellspring of love, which is God himself. The fruit of the Lenten journey should be that love overflows from our hearts, pouring out to God and to our neighbor.
Prayer allows us to hear what God is asking of us, to receive the love he wishes to pour out on us, and to come to know that we are his beloved children. In the first reading, the Lord pleads with us to return to him with our whole heart. His grace always precedes us. He is only asking for us to respond and to return to him. As Pope Francis reminds us, “Through recollection and silent prayer, hope is given to us as inspiration and interior light, illuminating the challenges and choices we face in our mission. Hence the need to pray (cf. Mt 6:6) and, in secret, to encounter the Father of tender love.”
Fasting is another way to return to the Lord with all our heart. By fasting from those things to which we are unhealthily attached, we come to experience greater freedom. This freedom helps us to choose God. Fr. Francis tells us that by fasting, “we empty ourselves more deeply, leaving us with a sense of privation – a sort of death to the flesh – allowing us to be lifted up by the Spirit to God.” Fasting awakens us to the many things that our hearts treasure and cling to. Lent offers us the opportunity and challenge to let go of these attachments.
Almsgiving flows from prayer and fasting. Through prayer we establish a relationship with God; through fasting we free ourselves of disordered attachments; and from this abundance of love and freedom, we can give to others. In the Pope’s message, we read: “Love is a gift that gives meaning to our lives. It enables us to view those in need as members of our own family, as friends, brothers or sisters. A small amount, if given with love, never ends, but becomes a source of life and happiness.” Almsgiving, then, benefits both the giver and the receiver. When we build up others by our selfless love, we break free from the prison of selfishness and participate in building a better world, one small step at a time.
Since Lent is set before us as a time of preparation, it is necessary also to keep in mind what we are preparing for: Easter, the greatest event in history, the great gift of reconciliation with God that he has won for us through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. This is a time of grace that we must not waste, an opportunity that we must not squander through complacency or procrastination! Now is the “very acceptable time,” this Ash Wednesday, to make a firm commitment to return to the Lord, our God, to prepare ourselves for the great gift of Easter. Let us go deeper through prayer; let us remove the attachments that block our deeper union with God; and let us show our love for him by loving the poor among us in selfless and practical ways.
As I begin Lent, how will I welcome God into my life and allow him to “make his dwelling” in me? How will my prayer, fasting and almsgiving aid me into the deeper wellspring of God’s love? What are the attachments that block my union with God?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.