The Three Pillars of Lent: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving
By Karen Riobo
Lent is here, a cycle of profound conversion and "spiritual health check-up." Lent is a time to grow in and strengthen our faith and to welcome new brothers and sisters into our community of faith. No doubt, we should intentionally work on our conversion every day. Still, these 40 days are extraordinary, focused on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. We prepare our hearts to celebrate the miracle of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ at Easter.
Catholics are called to actively seek the face of God and His graces during this time through three main pillars, Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. But why do we need to do them? How do they help us prepare for the big day?
Prayer during Lent focuses on our need for God's forgiveness. To hear God more clearly, we need to repent and humbly ask for His mercy in the Sacrament of Confession. We make room in our hearts as we restore our relationship with Him and with ourselves. The beauty of prayer is that God reveals himself and how He is working in our lives in it.
Matthew 6:6 But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
We are called to deepen our prayer life. For some of us, this means beginning a daily prayer habit, setting aside time each day to share our joys, fears, and struggles with Our Father. Praying first thing in the morning, before you start your day, or while on your commute to work are simple ways to incorporate prayer into everyday life. Praying the Rosary, visiting the Blessed Sacrament, or attending a daylong silent retreat may bring you to new places in your relationship with God. Just like Jesus went to the desert, we must encounter Him in the arid areas in our heart, away from any distractions so that we can see our sin and plan to turn away from it. Prayer during lent invites us to get to know Scripture and the Trinity more deeply.
As a way of working on their prayer life, some people challenge themselves to pray the Rosary and grow closer to Jesus through Mary. Lent is an excellent opportunity to consecrate yourself to Our Lady of Saint Joseph. They will help us grow in virtue and teach us how to be faithful followers of their Son, Jesus Christ.
Many devotionals and lent plans are available for us to reflect on every day from great Catholic authors.
It is not a diet; if we are fasting, food is to be replaced by the word of God and prayer. It is a call to feed our spirit. Fasting helps us prepare our souls for Easter, the great feast.
Just like we fast before receiving the Eucharist, the same applies to fasting during Lent. In a reflection from Rev. Daniel Merz explains that at the beginning of Jesus' ministry in the Gospel of Matthew, tells us, "When He had fasted 40 days, and 40 nights, He became hungry." Hunger is that state in which we realize our dependence on something else—when we face the ultimate question: "on what does my life depend?" Satan tempted Christ, saying: Eat, for your hunger is proof that you depend entirely on food, that your life is in food. Christ said, "Man does NOT live by bread alone." (Matthew. 4:4; Luke 4:4). Which tells us that fasting is the only means by which man recovers his true spiritual nature. We are called to grow in virtue through self-discipline by fasting on Fridays from meat and personally discerning what other behaviors or activities you can "fast" from. Fasting is a means of self-discipline, chastity, and the restraining of the appetites.
Matthew 6: 3-4 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
Almsgiving is a practice that helps us detach from our earthly possessions and work towards those in heaven. The Lenten call to almsgiving means making the needs of other people our own. Sharing our gifts with others, donating to a charitable organization, or sharing our time and talents with those in need is a way of being a true Christian.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church invites through St. John Chrysostom, "Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs." (2446).
When we realize our earthly possessions are gifts from God, we grow in freedom to focus on becoming the Holy people God has called us to be. Lent is a time to showcase that as members of the body of Christ, our blessings are to be shared with those in need.
I would like to share some ideas for almsgiving:
- cleaning out our closets and donating what we have not worn in at least six months.
- Volunteering at a soup kitchen.
- Buying diapers and donating them to a Respect Life center.
- Asking neighbors or family members if they need help with a house chore or project.
- Tutor a child who is struggling with a subject you dominate.
There are many opportunities to give alms out there; no matter which one you chose, it should be a form of prayer and offering for Our Lord's sacrifice on the Cross.
This lent may be a little different because of the pandemic. Some of our brothers and sisters will not get their ashes or even receive communion. Some churches might not be open yet. That's the beauty of being Christian. If you are going through any of these, I invite you to offer your pain and discomfort for your intentions and others. God's providence and mercy never fail us, and He can make this time the most fruitful for you and your family. Be encouraged by your brothers and sisters who are praying for you to persevere with your Lenten goals.
Here are some resources to make this Lent extra special.